Tag Archives: Love

4637 words about Tim

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.

This Day

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.

Marriage Sucks (…)

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.

Rocked like a baby

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Sometimes I remember that even my 7-year-old needs to be rocked like a brand new baby.

She has such a sensitive, comedic, and pleasing soul. Layla is the kind of girl that can make anyone her friend. She is inquisitive, sassy, and beautiful – and she knows it. My first child, she has known me as her mother the longest of my three, and her place in my heart is absolutely untouchable.

Tonight, I realized that her heart wants so badly to please me, and how she is seeing me is changing – as she changes. Our relationship grows and deepens as we both continue simply trying to figure out how to make this all work, me in my life, and she, in hers.

It is so easy for me to get caught up in this world, in the day-to-day mire of housewife, mother, and partner, and I forget to see the naked blessings that are so obvious before my eyes; Layla, of all my children, will be the first to remind me to be here, now, and it’s something I love about her, though at times it drives me mad. Because she forces me, with words or sometimes merely a frustrated glance, to see that I owe them more than the very least I can give.

That getting down on the floor to color matters. That sometimes, who gives a shit about the dirty dishes and instead, let’s have a dance party. She reminds me that we need more milk because Jemma said three hours later that she couldn’t make warm milk, and she runs through the grocery store to retrieve from our list – just because she knows it’ll help me out.

It just pulls my heart apart to realize I don’t give her all of me, and I choose whatever else over these simple, eloquent moments – when before my eyes, they are changing and growing; she is changing, growing, and if I don’t stop, I am missing it.

There are times like today when I watch her get to know me better, intentionally.

We were upstairs during naptime. Jemma was fighting sleep in resolute protest against the very mention of a nap, and Delaney had been down for about twenty minutes. I unlatched the baby, set her in the crib, and walked myself into the playroom where I had instructed my oldest child to straighten up from the playdate yesterday. She had done her work and so I found her relaxing on the couch.

We talked.

“Mama, how come you’re always cleaning, or you’re mad that the house is a mess?” She inquired after I remarked, emphatically, how great a job she did cleaning.

“Well, baby, I just want to make sure you guys grow up in a clean place, and it is important to me to do my work as a Mama and a wife. That means I need to keep the house clean.”

She, silent, stared into the carpet, obviously in thought.

We quickly ventured into a new topic and I mentioned that I wanted to try and lay down, and sleep while Delaney slept. She said she would like to go downstairs and watch some TV, I agreed that was fine.

Fast forward to this evening.

Jemma finally succumbed to a day of no rest (she is one who absolutely still needs that nap!) and Delaney easily went down for the night.

I walked downstairs, collecting laundry and cups as I went, mentally preparing myself for the tasks ahead. Dishes. Wiping counters. Cleaning toilets (seriously, how freaking often do I do that and they NEVER stay clean! It’s almost as if people are shitting there every day!). Taking out trash. Folding clothes…

I greeted her on the stairs as I walked through the gate. Immediately I could sense her sleepiness and asked if she was ready for bed. 9pm, after all, way past her normal bedtime.

She lazily answered that she wanted to help me clean up. I casually offered that she could help for 15 minutes and then would need to go to bed.

The music on for company, I set Pandora to Crosby, Still, & Nash, tiptoed myself gracefully to the kitchen, and began my work.

She followed behind me, asking what she could do. Trash on the counters. Give the dog some dinner. Easy stuff.

I busied myself for a few minutes all the while keeping an eye on her. Her pace slowing, her eyelids drooping more by the second.

“Baby, ready for bed?” I motioned to the stairs as I asked, turning my head away from the sink to catch her eyes.

She began to cry.

A tired cry, yes, but something deeper there lurked. I dropped the spatula and scrubby and rushed to her, setting myself onto the floor to cradle her in my arms.

It was a posture I don’t take much with her these days. She is my big girl, after all, she doesn’t need me like the younger ones do.

Within my embrace she wept.

I held her tightly, silently, awaiting the inevitable dump from her heart to my ears.

“I just, you do so much for us, and you work so hard on this house, and I feel bad that we don’t help you”.

My heart, broken.

Except, in that instant, hearing those words, I rejoiced. She WAS paying attention! What a great moment for me! To show her what matters to me. What matters as a mother, a wife, a housewife. . . We take care of where we live. We maintain it…

Except. I was showing her THIS mattered to me? The house? The work…?

More than… HER?

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I squeezed her into my flesh and began to feel hot tears behind my own eyes.

How could I have missed it?

How did I not see this?

SHE needs me.

She wants me present. Untethered by this world and all I feel I am called to do, and be.

First I was called to be her mother.

FIRST.

As she cried, I just thanked God for these moments. I breathed in the scent of her freshly-washed hair, it smelled like apples. I ran my fingers down her arms to once again feel her skin against mine.

I realized she may be 7, but she needs me to rock her like a baby.

To give to her what I give to my youngest – all of me.

You see, I began to believe that she didn’t need me like that. She didn’t need my breast to give her nourishment like Delaney requires. She didn’t need me to walk with her to the bathroom to turn on the light, like Jemma demands.

I have been watching her grow, and change, and our relationship has moved on to a new place. Where I convinced myself if even in some small way that I could stop giving all of me to her. She doesn’t need it. She can handle less. Requires less.

I saw tonight that this isn’t true.

What a beautiful gift, but it’s a bitter pill unless I actually commit to giving her what she deserves.

She matters more than the house, but I learned tonight, with her pleasing soul, she wanted to give me what she thought I NEEDED.

She has heard me say a thousand times that it matters to have dishes out of the sink. To keep our toys picked up. To clean up after meals.

Could I have missed teaching her, showing her, saying and doing – that what matters to me IS HER! Her sisters. Their happiness, tenderness, and well-being. . .

“Okay, baby, time for bed”. I pick her up from a squat and walk us to the stairwell leading up to her bedroom and our goodnight.

“I just want to make you happy, Mama”, she whispers, her face in my neck.

I kiss her forehead, breathe her in, and lay her atop the makeshift bed on my bedroom floor.

“I am, baby. I love you”.

I hope she knows I do. And I hope I get better at SHOWING HER THAT.

And, sometimes, when she needs it, I will scoop her into my mommy arms and rock her like a baby. Like my first child. My daughter. My Layla.

The one that matters most.

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My Greatest Work

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I’ve been watching her lately, really paying close attention.

She’s becoming more aware by the minute, it seems. Her perspective is shifting from an entirely “me” focused universe to grasping a world outside herself.

Tonight, she felt heavier in my arms. The weight and size of her frame has grown bigger in the past two days, and she’s napping longer and eating more to compensate for these changes.

It has happened…

Delaney is no longer a newborn. She is in the midst of her infancy; nevermore an entirely helpless new life but, now, ever-stronger each day, she’s becoming a little person.

I’ve come to realize these moments are precious. She is my third child, and quite possibly my last, so I have purposefully slowed down my pace to ensure I watch more closely; I cannot bear to miss this. . .

As I watch my sweet baby grow, so too are my eyes more aware of the changes taking place in my older daughters. Layla is nearly 7 – a spritely, sensitive, and charismatic young lady, she is hungry for attention, loves to read and solve math problems, and can dance very well to any music I throw her way. Jemma has learned her alphabet and I find her eager to write, and we spell together – I make the sound of the letter and she’s able to interpret this and write it; her thirst for knowledge is really evident these days. She loves to sing, have tickle fights, and paint her nails.

. . .

Watching them develop is a practice in trust. Contemplating their transformation from children to young adults to women, I find myself praying more often because I know, eventually, I’ll have to let them go.

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One day, Delaney will walk out of my front door with her hand in her partner’s, and together they’ll set off to create a new life apart from me. Jemma will get a job after college and seek to find out who she is, and I’ll have to simply listen when she stumbles, falls down, and has a hard time getting back up. Layla will become a mother and, as she navigates this new life she’s made, I’ll look deeply into her eyes and wonder – where in the hell did the time go?

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Stepping back, recently, I marvel at the way life goes. That I was blessed to have three amazing people call me mother. That me, simple old me, was given the distinct privilege to mother Layla, Jemma, and Delaney.

How did God know we’d be perfect for each other? Of all the amazing souls He could have chosen, it was fate that they are mine and I, well, I’ll belong to them, forever.

Motherhood forces you to examine yourself. To boldly face yourself in the mirror, naked and honest, because the weight of responsibility of this venture is mountainous. How could I ever fail them by being cavalier? Indifference or, worse, refusing to change – I can think of no greater disservice to my children than this.

They look to me to provide them with the framework for their womanhood. To help them grow into kind, patient, caring women someday so that they may give to the poor, be loyal to their principles, and know God and honor one another with love. From me, I bestow upon them a legacy of my actions, my choices, my beliefs, my failures, and my successes; whether you admit it to yourself or not, who you are, as a parent, at least somewhat directly influences who your children become.

My successes – perseverance one of the greatest; I try and show them that overcoming difficulty may not come when you desire it, but if you keep on going and will to change, you can surmount just about any obstacle. My failures are many and my daughters have seen me weep. I’ve shown them that it is okay to break down, to honor your emotions, and to work through hard feelings; if, from my mistakes they learn anything, let it be this: Forgiveness is impossible to experience unless one accepts it heartedly, but when you stumble, it’s the only thing that lets a broken man walk again.

How my beliefs influence them, well, that is something I just hope to show through my heart. Grace. Giving it and receiving it, with gratitude. My choices have made Layla and Jemma live in a different home apart from me for some of the time each month – I’d be a fool to assume this won’t affect them in some way growing up; but I validate their feelings, help them to know and love their father, and pray that we can make the best of it always. Finally, my actions – this is the part I’ve been observing lately as I watch them grow. . .

Actions reveal your spirit. A peaceful, content spirit does not get easily angered, is eager to contribute, and seeks to create harmony in the lives of others and within. This is what I’ve been trying to achieve, but Lord knows I have not yet mastered it. If my children learn anything from my actions, may it be that I was supportive and encouraging even when they stumble. That I am calm and level-headed when they disobey the rules and harm themselves or others. Please that I love them without judgment regardless of their choices, and accept with an open mouth and listening ears that we are different people, and at different points in our lives, we will diverge – this is okay.

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Examining myself, I see so many flaws. I am lazy, moody, lack direction, and nit-pick at the little things. But, I am also fiercely intent on growing past these negative attributes, and I am especially aware of my intentions to change when I stop and really pay attention to my children.

I want them to become soft, loving women. Warm, welcoming wives. Nurturing, attentive mothers.

How special that I was given girls. My entire life, I desired sons. To raise young men, future husbands. I’ve mourned the loss of this dream but, at the same time, can absolutely thank God, wholeheartedly, that I was given girls.

Because, my greatest life’s work is not 350 pages of a best-selling novel. It won’t be how many babies I’ve delivered. The list could go on of the worldly contributions I may set out to make. . .

But these things won’t matter. Not really. Not as much as the time I stopped to watch Layla dance barefoot across the living room floor, her toes pointed and her face wistfully smiling. It won’t matter as much as hearing Jemma laugh when she makes up a silly song and sings it all the time. Not like holding my new baby girl, falling asleep getting heavier in my arms by the second as I rock her into peaceful dreams. . .

I may have taken a different road than most. To get here, now, I am actually grateful for the journey. Because I’ve learned to stop.

To appreciate this, entirely. To forgive myself the mistakes I’ve made, and still make, and just fiercely love my children. Fiercely devote my life to them, and help them grow safe and loved in their own skin.

It is, and will be, my life’s greatest work.

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Motherless daughter about to have a baby

Without You, Ingrid Michaelson

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There within my soul it lingers. Almost tangible, as an exhale of breathe or the way my heart seems to beat stronger these days – a longing for something that I cannot grasp that I need now more than ever. I’ve spent the better part of the past nearly ten years dealing with this loss. Trying to make sense of it, to fit it into the context of the rest of my life. To recognize, over and over again, that she is… Gone.

Perhaps my longing is selfish entirely, but what does that matter? I am a motherless daughter about to have a child of my own. About to welcome a son or daughter, to make my girls siblings again, and make my husband a father when he holds his child for the first time and evermore. Is it wrong to desire a single moment wherein she shares this joy with me? To say, aloud, “Meet your Grandchild, Mama…”

Instead, it will only be a whisper and a pain in my heart that nobody here will understand. In the grand picture – this breathtaking moment I finally meet this life that has made a home within me for 9 months – the lack of my mother here will be small; I will be the only one whom notices a key player is missing, and as my baby is passed from John’s smiling father and mother, I will only briefly remember that the person I needed here most is gone. Her absence merely something I occasionally talk about because I don’t like making them uncomfortable, so I don’t blame anyone for not seeing that pain in the back of my eyes.

Right now, however, I feel it deeply. It is not just a passing thought that occasionally plagues the mind when I haven’t successfully masked it with idle distraction. Nobody knows this, though. I dare not speak it because then the loss is once again breathed to life outside of my heart.

Life has been hard these past few days. I am exhausted. I am physically slower than I’d like to be, and parts of me ache that I did not know could hurt. Emotionally, my heart is ready to conclude this chapter of motherhood and have this baby outside of my body – I had cried more these past few days than I’d like to admit, the strongest sign that I am not my self.

When life gets hard, this is when I miss her most. The thing is, the complication inherent in this for me, is that I am not even sure who it is I miss. The last few years of her life she was not herself so the only real representation I have of “mother” is pre-addiction when she was more my mommy than my mother; I an adolescent or a child – who she was to me then is probably not who she would have been had she lived into my adulthood thus I can only speculate. Honestly, I think that is part of what makes this hurt. The concept of having a mother, as I became and again becoming a mother, is foreign to me. But, nevertheless, I feel it as if the loss is something, as if she is someone, I still recognize in the present time.

Would she be here now? Taking a plane ride from Washington to Texas to help with my children as I rest. To relieve my husband whom has been picking up all my slack while still doing his full-time job, and taking care of the kids… Would she fold laundry and tell me stories of when she had her five kids? Would she be inclined to serve me the way I imagine I will serve my daughters when it becomes their time to become a mother?

Instead of answers, I have emptiness. There is nobody here helping, and I am working really hard at not being resentful of this but it becomes difficult as my body tires and my brain wanders around these thoughts.

The loss of her came well before her death and as I process it, yet in another season of my own life, I am still someone angry that it came to that for the person whom God put on this earth to make five children – to what? Leave us before most of the things that mattered most in our lives took place. What has troubled me these ten years is that it just doesn’t make sense. I guess God does not need to give us sense, sometimes… Just hope that we will see her again? Maybe, sometimes, that is not enough… but we aren’t allowed to say that even if it is the most honest thing to come from this.

My baby will be loved. I know that. I love my children fiercely and with my whole heart, so if anything I know they will get by with that… This baby, and my two little girls, ARE loved… But sometimes, I wish that someone in our lives would fill the role of Grandma to them, presently, and love them all equally. Because of the family dynamic I come from, and the one my choices have made, this is not possible, and at least I am sure they get love from so many places. That in itself is a blessing, and I do not wish to deny it or downplay it – but I imagine and like to think it would have been different if my own mother was here to love my children.

Maybe the coping mechanism of dealing with this loss creates the exterior view of a world wherein things could appear exactly as my heart wishes. I could portray my mother as someone whom would have been here, loving my girls and anxiously awaiting another grandbaby, totally present and excited with her own daughter – cheering me on and reminding me I can do this. She would be at the birth, reminding me of when she had all of her children naturally and that I am capable of this. She would be one of the first people to see my baby, learn its name, and cry with me – watching the circle of life make our family bigger. She would help with dishes and take the kids to the park and not want to board that plane back home.

I can make her whomever I want her to be. I can miss that picture that I create – completely aware that it is make-believe, and who she was can never be the person I make her in my dreams – but the momentary imagination, no matter how unreal, comforts me more than this lack of… anything at all.

Any day now, this baby will come. My body will do the work hers did 31 years ago when she had me – her most dramatic birth that almost killed her when I made her a mother to a daughter for the first time. Any moment now, I will begin the labor that will bring into this world my first son or my third daughter, either way my last child. Any second now…

I pray that God gives me peace about what I am missing. That I can let this go as I write these words and simply exist in each passing moment – in today – and cease to long for something that was released from my control many years ago. The ability to make new memories. To have anything but what we lost. To know her as anything other than who she became after losing my mommy to someone that was no longer my mother.

I pray to God to let me move past the absence that is present when I look around my home and when I pick up the phone to dial a number never again answered. I pray that I can only miss her momentarily when John’s family comes to hold my new baby but my family is hundreds of miles away or gone altogether. I pray that, as this baby gives me a million reasons to find joy and peace and purpose, I can thank Him for the gift of being a mother in a world where my “mother” is a notion I can only narrowly grasp in dreams.