It's Together Ever After

             Y'all know I have been longing for a writing community for some time now- people to understand my struggles and to guide me in this new arena.  I am pleased to share that I found one of the missing pieces on Instagram.  I don't remember how I first found her, but ever since I started following Evelyn A. Lauer I have felt we share the same love for love and the same urge to tell a story about our battle to find it and keep it safe.  Each time she publishes something new, I am reaffirmed that I know the character in her story.  Evelyn earned her MFA in creative writing at Texas State University, is a Huffington Post blogger, and has just recently finished a memoir.  This week she is hosting 7 Days of Love Stories written by guest bloggers on her website.  The opportunity to share our story came at a perfect time since I'm currently working on our testimony for Re|Engage, the marriage ministry we hold so dear.  I am grateful for my words to be included in her series and can't wait for y'all to read it so you can tell me what you think.  My story is one fraught with poor decisions.  But that's life, isn't it?  And, somehow, I found a love that lasts.  Here is our love story (in a word count nutshell)...

It's Together Ever After

               The first night we met I was broken.  I was still technically married at the time but had recently left my then-husband to chase an old flame, to escape the pain, to make it all clean again.  My then-husband was relieved to have the spotlight positioned over my head instead of his and I was questioning why I had never thought of divorce as an option before.  I let the old flame blanket me in warmth and I melted into him. 
Just as soon as I learned to smile again and to eat more calories than I drank each day, I started to see I wouldn’t be able to keep him either.  He had just returned from the service overseas.  I had just escaped war in my own home.  He wanted freedom.  I wanted security.  Tangling in the sheets kept me entertained, but it wouldn’t make me stay.  I could hear the cries and feel the wounds of the past seven years creeping up behind me at night like the clip-clop and clatter of an old horse and buggy chasing me in the dark.  Without the warmth of his bed, would I have the strength to flip on the lights and ward off the ghosts?   And then we met...
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Keep going baby.

   Last Thursday night I was sitting outside of Little Girl's acrobatics class doing some self-prescribed homework with Baby Girl.  She wants so badly to be big and capable and worthy.  I can't believe she doesn't already know she is beyond capable and worthy but I let her assign herself some homework anyway.  As we sat on our favorite wooden bench, dancers and cheerleaders crisscrossing in front of us and almost tripping over our feet, we pulled out the Kumon workbooks I bought at Costco forever ago.

   First we worked on uppercase letters, then we moved on to mazes, and finally ended up at connect-the-dots.  I began at the number one and ran my forefinger through the white space, encouraging her to follow me and draw a straight, bold line right where I had traced an imaginary one.  She drew her marker up in the air and pressed it on the paper.  Every few seconds her big brown eyes would glance up from the paper to me for encouragement and I would remind her that she knows what comes after 14.  "Keep going baby," I told her.  "You're good at this."  With each page came new challenges- the lines were on a diagonal, the numbers went into the 20s- and when she started to lose interest or get discouraged, I said, "Don't stop.  It's going to look so neat when it's done.  Can you tell what it is yet?"  The mystery of the end product drew her back in. 

   Eventually, she developed some new strategies, "What if, instead of a straight line, I made a wavy line from seven to eight?  What if I drew a circle around fifteen before I draw a line to sixteen?"  At this point I was standing at the window, trying to watch Little Girl's dance.  She's the youngest and most inexperienced in the class.  I have to watch the routines intently so I know the answers to her questions while she practices during the week.  Once I brought my attention back to Baby Girl and noticed what she was doing, I tried to steer her back to straight lines.  "Honey, if you draw wavy lines between all the numbers, then the picture won't look right.  Try the straight lines again."  She went back to the straight lines and when she was done with each picture, she'd prance around the halls, holding the workbook open wide with both hands, singing a song about whatever she had just drawn.

   As we drove home my mind kept wandering to the night before and the decision I need to make.  I had attended an information session about creative writing classes.  I debated not going in the days prior, but I figured the classes were unimposing.  Adult education or continuing education classes are just for fun, right?  Nothing to worry about.  Wrong.  These classes are intense.  The Writer's Path seems like it is designed to strip you down and then build you back up.  I expected that in this process.  But I was pretty good at bringing myself down on my own; I didn't think I needed to pay someone else to do it for me.

   Daddy issues aside, at sixteen I thrust myself into modeling and spent the first few years making decisions which would reveal, in time, who I could trust and who I could not.  I was talking to my mom about all of this yesterday and we were half laughing, half cringing at all the mistakes I made when I first started modeling.  The writer's retreats and writing classes I want to do now are very reminiscent of the model camps and model schools I tried when I was younger.  I hear that tape playing in my head, chiding me with, "Everyone just wants your money.  You're smarter than that."  But really, I'm not.  I'm not savvy enough in this new industry to know where to put my resources.  And the stakes are much higher now with a family that depends on me.

   My husband, daughters, and I have been discussing this during breakfast, late at night, in the car, in the bath, and now I'm sharing it with you, wherever you are.  I think my husband always knew this was coming and is nothing but supportive.  The girls just want to know what the book is about.  I don't know where this interest in writing will take me but I am going to pursue it regardless, kind of like Baby Girl's connect the dots workbook. 

   I am now aware of the dots that brought me here but I'm a little hesitant to trust in which direction I should go.  Maybe all the self-prescribed studying I've been doing these past seven months was just drawing a circle around my spot instead of moving onto the next one.  Maybe the writing retreats or the Writer's Path will be wavy lines instead of straight ones.  I don't know.  But I wouldn't have met the people I needed to meet in the modeling world if I never started to take risks.  And I'm never going to prance around the halls, singing and holding my book wide open with both hands, if I don't start taking more risks.  If only the path I should take was lined out perfectly in front of me, each step clearly numbered, you know? 

     I plan on making more time to share on the blog this year and I hope you'll stay tuned and let me know what you think.  For now, I'll be subtly hinting to my husband by posting on my blog that all he has to say is what I told Baby Girl (and what I'm sure I'll tell Little Girl later when we practice her dance), "Keep going baby.  You're good at this."


December is a Test

   December is over.  Phew.  For me, it is always a test- as if I've been auditing and adjusting skills all year and the considerable demands of the busiest month test my limits.  It is the most magical time of the year, right?  Yes, only if the matriarchs can keep it together.  Let's be honest, ladies.  The magic is all up to us, isn't it?  I think I fared well this year, better than in the past.  Did you survive?

   December is a glittering mirage that taunts me.  "I can't wait until Christmas," I tell myself in July when we're dehydrated and dreading back-to-school.  I love decorating with tiny, blinking lights and shimmery ornaments while Bing Crosby sings in the background.  I love drinking hot chocolate while oohing and ahhing at Christmas lights in spirited neighborhoods.  And I love cozying up under a blanket with my family to watch Home Alone for the umpteenth time.  We look forward to it all year.  I was proud of myself this fall for making it through the school's fundraiser, the pumpkin parties, the costumes, the candy, and then Thanksgiving in one piece.  But as I was doing the last of the dishes at my parents' house, and I saw Christmas on the horizon, the anticipation of glitter and comfort dissipated.  I felt the weight of December descend.

   I resent the weight and the stress of December.  How horribly ironic that Christmas is a celebration of the Lord sending us His one and only Son, yet our culture has tortured it and twisted it into a month-long, all-consuming army of monsters.  I didn't want my family to duck out of any of the wonderful traditions, but I decided to reject the weight that is so closely associated with Christmas.  My children's memories of the holiday season shouldn't be dictated by a mommy teetering on the edge of sanity.

   The first stop on the normally crazy Christmas train is family drama.  I am a relational person by nature.  I feel most secure and most loved when surrounded by my family, which is a catch-22 because I come from a broken-three-times-sideways family that has always struggled with mending fences.  We fight.  But nobody ever wants to clean up.  And as soon as we started to coordinate schedules for family meals, church services, and mini-birthday celebrations (one of my sisters and I both have birthdays within the week before Christmas), battle wounds from years ago were suddenly sore again.  I even went down the will-he-even-send-a-birthday-card-this-year rabbit hole.  Everyone's style varies from issue to issue- some choose to be silent, some choose to be very vocal- but either way, the pain is palpable. 

   This year I chose not to fight the fight.  I chose to be respectfully quiet, peaceful, and humble.  (Ok, I did freak out twice, but they were short-lived, well-contained, and two is a major improvement.)  I smiled.  I sent out Christmas cards anyway.  And I prayed for them anyway.  I heard someone raise the question last week, "How do I know if I have enemies?"  If it's difficult for you to pray for them, then they're probably your enemies.  And having an enemy within the blood of your own family is excruciating to maneuver well.  If blood is thicker than water, it's far more painful to receive a blood transfusion than it is to drink a glass of water.

   Sending out Christmas cards is, therefore, a major portion of the December Test.  And the questions one must answer aren't confined to family.  We must answer for our friendships as well.  Will you send a card to them despite what has happened?  Will you delete their address from your book completely?  Will you contact them to get their new address since they moved, or not?  Several years ago I decided I needed to make new friends, even reach out to some old ones.  I have never trusted more than a handful of people at a time. Unknowingly, I had set the bar pretty high for success in these new relationships.  Along the way many have not ended well. Discontinuation of the new friendships were mostly justified- square peg, round hole syndrome.  But it still makes me sad when a connection is lost.  Addressing Christmas cards has always reminded me of the fragility of the human heart.  Things can change so quickly.  You never know what the year will bring.  This Christmas I decided I would intentionally change my attitude and focus on all the love that exists, instead of the void where it does not.  I focused on the miracle of Jesus and the miracle of love and connection, instead of the great divisions.
   Once I realized I could transform my perspective a bit in terms of my emotions, I was inspired to tackle the staggering logistics of December as well.  I wanted to be prepared for surprises.  I wanted to make sure I got enough sleep and didn't rely on vices for motivation or escape.  And I wasn't going to allow myself to be devoured by worry and stress.  So, I did the unthinkable- I quit smoking.  (Yes, again.) 

   My close friends and family know I've been struggling with this for years.  Each time I was done nursing my daughters, all it took was one date night and I was smoking at home every night after I tucked the girls into bed.  It certainly is the dumbest thing I have ever done- to entertain such a ridiculously destructive habit.  Yet I indulged over and over again.  And I quit over and over again.  This time though, I made it through Christmas, my birthday, and New Year's Eve without giving into another monster that used to prop me up during the holidays.  More on that later, but I'm pretty proud of myself.  And since I wasn't smoking, I hardly drank during the holidays either.  Steady as she goes.

   Ever since we became parents, the Christmas season has felt like an interminable acupuncture session gone horribly wrong.  Each event, communication, task on the to-do list, and even our hopes were steadily poked and jabbed until the soft spot was eventually punctured.  It almost seemed like that was the goal, to strip me down of all my safety barriers and crutches so that in January I could start rebuilding again.  And I think I accepted it these past few years.  But that's not what I want for myself.  And my children definitely deserve more.  We all deserve the best of me.  And if I'm going to be the best version of myself, I have to be intentional about which side of the fight I'm entrusting with my energy.

   January is still a time of rebirth and renewal for me, but on better terms this year.  For once, the desperation that drove me to press the reset button was lessened...and lessoned.  As I grow each year, I realize it isn't as important to maintain relationships as it is vital to understand each person for their own fears, their own needs. I'm afraid of the haunting pain that comes with losing people, so I grip them tightly.  That's exactly why I smoked all those years- to lessen the pain of loss.  It's unrealistic to expect life to be painless.  It is absolutely possible for me to handle pain, and stress, and worry, and failures differently. I think I passed the December Test this year.

   So I'm going to stop trying to warm the cold and to melt the ice.  It's not my ice to melt.  All I can control is what kind of wife I am to my husband, what kind of daughter or sister I am, and what kind of mother I am to my children.  And when we have our own ice to deal with I better be ready and willing to stop focusing on the cold, to stop looking for something to lean on, and to just dig in and make the best of it.



Fire Island

   I've spent the past couple months studying the craft, poring over book after book.  I desired to return to my story with a fresh set of skills but I needed time to pump myself up.  This past summer I realized I shouldn't be desperately seeking writer friends.  I needed to be reading their books.  So I did.  Their impeccable prose and constant encouragement sent me on a literary high.  (Stephen King and Dani Shapiro and I have totally bonded.  Too bad for them they have no idea.) I neared the end of Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird on the first leg of our family vacation a few days ago.  For weeks I had been coasting along on my new-found confidence, itching to get back to my story, when, riding the Magical Express to Disney World, I read Lamott's last chapter.  It made me mad- fire-breathing, spitting-dirt, kick-the-wall-even-though-it-hurts mad.  I spent the days on our trip in Wonderland, laughing and smiling until my cheeks hurt.  Then we'd tuck the girls in, my husband would fall asleep watching the news, and I would lie in bed with my eyebrows all scrunched up and my lower lip stuck out- angry and pouting in one of the most magical places on earth.  A wildfire attacked My Galapagos.  I stood witness to all of my work going up in flames.

   Most artists and writers are introverts.  We want to have a support system and a critique group to touch base with, but we aren't looking for new friends.  I'm allowing my inner hermit to take over in this phase of life.  My close friends would be hesitant to believe I'm any sort of a wallflower because they've stood witness to decades of shenanigans.  But the ones who really know me have always suspected I would rather stay home, no matter how much fun we would have if they could get me to come out and play.

   I've been locking myself in myself.  In order to tell my story, and hopefully many others, I have to truly know myself.  What would your answer be if someone asked you, "Who are you?  What is your purpose in life?"  Would you even have an answer?  I was asked this recently.  I told them I would have to get back to them.  Even though I know my heart, my habits, and my dreams, I couldn't sum up exactly who I am and had never thought about my purpose in life.  The easy answer would've been, "I'm a wife and mother and I like to read and write."  But that's just the surface.  I don't like living on the surface.  It isn't the truth.

   I have found many answers these past few months in my reading.  Every time I read a new book, I learn more about myself.  That's what I love about the written word.  I love to connect with people, to tear back the façade, and to get a good look at the bones.  Maybe this stems from hiding other people's lies; maybe it stems from hiding my own.  Either way, all the dishonesty surrounding me left ravines so deep that the ground on which I stood broke away, and decided I would only focus on the truth, the bones from then on.  We are all different structures built on the same set of bones.  We all have the same problems, same worries, and same insecurities.  The manifestations seem incomparable, but the bones are all the same.  I just wish everyone wasn't so hell bent on celebrating the surface.

   Back in April, I wrote here about my fears with this memoir.  I'm afraid to include other people in my story- people who indisputably changed my future with their choices.  They certainly didn't think that by popping in and out of my life that their actions would someday be immortalized in print.   My curiosity on protocol caused me to reach out and ask for advice.  Thank y'all for lending me your time, for your thoughtfulness, and for guiding me in a new direction.  Hearing your feedback, whether encouraging or not, shapes me as a writer because it helps me discover what you want to read.  Writing is all for naught if no one will read it.  My heart and mind were full and ready to burst after y'all sent me down a new path and I naively bopped along this glorious trail with a literary companion for the next few months.  And then the bomb went off.

   A monsoon bathed the bus as we headed from the airport to our resort in Disney World.  Determined to stay awake and utilize every free moment, I opened my book.  I wanted to finish it before we arrived at the hotel and the vacation/marathon began.  I had just made it to the last chapter when I read this from Lamott's Bird by Bird, "Libel is defamation by written or printed word.  It is knowingly, maliciously saying things about people that cast them in false or damaging light." She went on to explain, "if you lived with a man who had a number of curious personal and professional habits and circumstances that his friends and clients know about, and if these friends can identify this man in your work by these habits and circumstances, you should probably change the details dramatically."

   I felt robbed.  I felt betrayed.  I felt angry.  Everywhere I turn, authors are inspiring other writers and dreamers to dig deep, to be unafraid, to tell your story, to be transparent, to not leave anything out.  Lamott began on page 3, "The very first thing I tell my students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth," and continued on page 6 with, "Remember that you own what happened to you." Just kidding.  Everyone's going to sue you.

   I chose to keep quiet about my torment until I had enough time to sort it all out.  The next few nights I sulked, I cursed, and I plotted.  My island became immediately engulfed in flames.  All I had built, the sprouts I had planted, the towering palms I had been babying, even my favorite spot where I sat to write, had been devoured by the fire.  This is my life, I thought.  I would not be kept quiet anymore.  That was the whole point in writing a book- to silence and expel my demons.  Instead, they were consuming me, once again.

   Eventually, I wiped the page of my mind clean, lifted my pen of creativity, and sketched an escape hatch smack dab in the middle of the empty white space.  Fiction.  Write fiction.  I stared at the scorched bones left behind, littering my once-beautiful island, and began building again.  I have no other choice.  This dream won't be joining the rest of my failures in the scrap pile.  This dream will be realized.  If I have to change all the details, the identifying characteristics, the places, and everything else that lies on the surface, it won't bother me a bit.  It won't change my story.  The bones are still the same.


What Kindergarten Taught Me

  The first day of Kindergarten- it was the moment I had been not-so-secretly looking forward to her entire five years of life.  On those endless colicky nights that bled into the mornings, during those chaotic evenings when I wanted to hand everyone a package of Pop-Tarts and send myself to bed at 5:30, after running out of patience and answers when faced with the never-ending list of questions about the world, and especially when she asked me to get out the play-doh or the paints again after I just finished scraping Legos out of the carpet, I held out hope for...the first day of Kindergarten. 

   My parents, my mom friends with older children, her pediatrician, and even her Sunday school teacher all told me, "Just wait.  When she's in Kindergarten it'll get easier!  You'll have more time to catch up on all those things you've been setting aside."  Their words transported me to my go-to fantasy, the one I had been painting in my head ever since her first indiscernible cry, and I smiled.  In this future life of mine, I would saunter through the hallway of my clean house, draw in the aromas of the simmering pan, pat the heads of my content children, and go back to my book to sneak in a few pages before dinner.  If only for a moment, I smiled.  Life was going to be better.  I would eventually get my act together.  And it would be wonderful.

   We had been preparing her for Kindergarten at every stage.  "Oh, look!  She is focusing her eyes on me for the first time!  Go get the color blocks!"  On her first half-birthday I began reading three books to her every night and never stopped.  I let her use scissors way before I was comfortable giving her any sharp object and I tried to always say yes to play-doh because I knew it would strengthen the writing muscles in her hands.  We took her to the zoo, the aquarium, the arboretum, the museum, the library.  We pointed out every leaf on every tree, corrected every behavior that would be unbecoming to classmates, and cringed at the ones we knew the teacher would discover anyway.

   Suddenly, we could see kindergarten ahead of us.  Teachers were pointing out all the ways our children would be prepared for it at her preschool.  Parents were giving us tips through past experiences, blogs, books, and unsolicited advice.  Even my Mom's Group brought in speakers with checklists and inside information.  Then, the wrench.  My husband got cold feet.  He started to entertain the idea we keep her home another year.  Most of our parent friends in her class had children with late birthdays and it seemed at least half had decided to hold their children back.  It was unclear whether their motives were sports or social-skills related, but still, he gave into the pressure.  And he tried to convince me.

   I panicked.  I had this all planned out.  We had discussed this plan countless times before and he had entirely agreed until now.  How on earth was I going to change his mind?  As we stood in the hall one morning, watching her class file upstairs to chapel, he whispered to me, "Wow.  I never realized how much taller she is than the rest of her class."  Bingo.  I nodded and gave a little, "Mmm hmmm.  She sure is!" Then I waited.  I stayed quiet just long enough so he wouldn't see it coming.  One night as we laid in bed watching TV, I nudged, "Honey, you know the biggest problem I see with holding her back?  If she's a little bit older than everyone else, and even quite a bit taller, she'll probably be the first to...(ahem)...develop."  "What?  What do you mean?"  Then I went for the jugular, "You know, she might be the first one in her class to get boobs.  And, trust me, you never want to be the first girl in your class to get boobs."  And just like that, it was over.  Off to Kindergarten we went.

   Finally, there we were.  It was the first day of Kindergarten.  I parallel-parked on the street in front of the school.  Her sparkling new shoes led her as she floated out of the car and bounced off the pavement, skipping to the door.  I followed closely behind, swallowing and blinking in quick succession.  I only had to hold it together a few more minutes.  I pumped myself up, "Come on.  You can do this."  She replied, "I know Mama!  Come on!!"  I signed my name and reached out for her hand.  She was already halfway down the hall.  She turned back and looked over her shoulder at me, bubbling over with giggles and anticipation.  But she didn't slow down.  I ran to catch up with her and scooted in the door behind her.  A few fake smiles to the parents and a simple kiss on her cheek later, she was all settled in and ready.  It was time for me to leave.


   Of course I had to pull over and ugly cry on the way home.  And of course I walked her to class every day that first week.  Every day she smiled and skipped into the classroom.  And every day it was time for me to leave.  I did really well.  She never saw a single tear.  She only saw my smile, felt my arms squeezing the air out of her tiny little ribcage, and heard me whisper in her ear the same words I always left her with each morning in preschool, "Good bye.  And go fly."

   But then, that second Monday, I had to drop her off at the door.  I turned the steering wheel and curved my car to the back of the building.  I slowed up to the curb.  A teacher opened my door and I handed her the Merida backpack she had coveted for so long.  Be brave.  And I let her walk out the door.  I didn't move the car until I saw the school door close behind her, not until the teacher gently waved me ahead.  And then I lost it.

   I am not ashamed to say I pretty much lost it each and every morning I dropped her off at school the entire year.  No, I didn't ugly cry every single morning.  Yes, the teachers instantly knew I was nuts.  No, they didn't hold it against me.  But my heart did drop every time that glittery backpack bravely forged on and then disappeared through that door.  When I had to release the brake and drive away, I clutched my heart. 

   Of course I instantly fell in love with her teacher and knew she was as happy and safe as she could be.  Of course she made some incredible friends, blew our minds with her amazing math skills and hunger for science, and took our breaths away each time she finished reading us a new book.  Of course she loved every minute of it- story time at the library, field trip to the zoo, field day, crazy hair day, kickball in the gym, tying her shoes for the first time by herself, making her very own fossil in class, singing "Let it Go" the loudest in music class.  It was the most magical year. 

   And then, all too quickly, came...the last day of kindergarten.  Graduation.  Oh.  My heart.  No one warned me about graduation!  I remember thinking how silly a kindergarten graduation sounded when she was a toddler.  Really?  So everyone gets a trophy, birthday parties are going to put us in the poor house, and they have a graduation ceremony every time they complete something?  Isn't that a bit much?  Yes.  It is.  But it's worth it.  Preparing for, and entering, kindergarten is such a "thing" nowadays.  Kids have to be much more prepared for kindergarten than we ever did, which means us parents do too.

   Only, no one ever told me to prepare myself for the last day of kindergarten.  No one told me she would have a different laugh, one I didn't recognize, within the first month of kindergarten.  No one warned me that she may bolt out of the car in the morning and run into other people's arms...people I don't know- older students, classmates, art teachers, the school nurse.  It doesn't matter.  I don't know them.  They aren't me.  No one told me what would happen to my heart if I happened to be volunteering in the classroom on the very day the school practiced its lockdown drill.  No one prepared me for those five minutes of silence, cornered in the bathroom with her sweet teacher, with her class, with her- sharing her teacher's fear.

   I never realized all those years I was rushing through our three books before bed, not allowing her to speak whatever was on her mind because I was too tired, that she wouldn't learn to ask questions about the story, the characters, their choices.  I wasn't letting her write her own story. 

   I never could have imagined that, after instructing her to return all uneaten food to her lunchbox so I could see how much she ate when she got home, I would be handed a soggy, dripping mess the first week of school because she saved the rest of her ice cream for me.  I didn't know how tired she would be after school- too tired to do all the things I had planned to make up for our lost time together.  She had already been to PE and recess.  She was too tired to go to the park with me.

   I never thought parents of kindergarteners would be inviting my little girl to sleepovers at five years old.  I never thought girl drama would begin in kindergarten.  I never thought parents of kindergarteners would drop their kids off at birthday parties.  And I forgot how much I hate homework.  No.  Really.  I despise it.  Yes, I'm grateful to be involved with her studies and to better prepare her for "the real world" but give me a break.  Let them be little.  And let them be with their families in the few hours they have between school and bedtime.  But what do I know?  It's been decades since I was in kindergarten.  My little girl is my oldest.  This is our first time.  We both had a lot to learn. 

   Now she knows how to write her own story, how to add and subtract, that humans and tyrannosaurus rex were never neighbors, that we forgive our friends, that she can do it, that I can do it, that I will always be there for her, and that I will need forgiveness too. 

   And what did kindergarten teach me?  It taught me that I have a lot of letting go to do.  It taught that me if I do let go, I allow her to fly.  Sometimes she will fall, but mostly she will fly higher than I ever imagined.  It taught me that she needs to write her own story.  But it also taught me that I don't have to let go all at once.  I have time.  We still have time.  Thank God.



   I had always prided myself on being self-made.  I had planned, worked, saved, spent, crossed things off lists, worked, risked, failed, worked, saved, worked some more, and finally felt proud, pleased with my accomplishments.  The husband?  Check.  The children?  Check.  The family?  Check.  The friends?  Check.  The house?  Check.  The vacations?  Check.  I grabbed the world by the shirt collar and won.  I wasn't given special allowances or much of anyone's good graces.  Beyond all odds, I had snatched that elusive, dangling carrot and finally sat down to enjoy it, all the while patting myself on the back. Never mind how I arrived here, right?  All that mattered was I won.

   Early in my journey, I was faced with betrayal on all fronts, personal, professional, and intimate.  I learned at nineteen, and perhaps much earlier, that I could trust no one.  Everything everyone had ever said to me became a lie with one truth.  I forgave, continued to love, enjoyed life, and lived my own story, but always with a sideways glance and always on alert.  Never would I allow myself to be unaware of my surroundings again.

   Find me a decade later, and I was relieved to have overcome the most trying years- my twenties.  Ah, the gloriously awful twenties that lift you up into the heavens of freedom and slam you back down on the ground of reality, over, and over, and over again until you turn thirty.  Then, somehow, you stop taking things so seriously.  You stand still, look down at your shoes, and laugh how feverishly you used to click those heels together.

   I stood at thirty and smiled at the present, laughed at the past, and snorted at the future.  Piece of cake.  I had things figured out now.  I knew men.  I knew women.  I knew how to work a situation and I knew when to bow out of one.  I knew my strengths.  I knew my weaknesses.  I knew how to get what I desired.  Obviously, my thirties had not yet begun to fight.  Although, they quickly caught up.

   My relationships started to crumble.  First, it was my circle of friends, then it was my family, and finally, my marriage.  Don't you worry.  I justified it along the way.  "Well, if that's what she thinks about me then I don't have time or energy to spend on her.  This is just what happens after you become a parent.  Your circle gets smaller.  If he thinks I'm going to just lay down and let him get away with that- he's dead wrong.  If they don't add anything to my life, then I have no use for them in mine.  I'm done putting up with it all."  And finally, "I don't care what he does.  He could get a girlfriend.  He could spend all our money.  I'm not leaving.  This is just how marriage is- tough."   Haven't we all bought into the ridiculous phrase, "Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy"?

   I had created my own world and was reigning over it with a clenched fist.  If someone didn't align themselves with my ideals, they were removed.  I judged, rejected, and punished people.  Had they done me wrong?  Absolutely.  Was I hurt?  Deeply.  Was I any authority?  Did I know the secrets of the world and, therefore, possess the knowledge required to reign over a kingdom?  Did I know any other way than to answer displeasure with judgment and punishment?  No.  Absolutely not.  And, nope.

   So why was I in charge?  Who put me in power anyway?  I did.  I had created my own idol- myself.  I convinced myself that I knew all before and all future.  I knew what he was thinking, knew what she really meant, and knew what would happen if I didn't defend myself.  Life was war.  Only, I never noticed I was the only one worshipping the idol I had created.  I kept waiting for everyone else to get on board.  Eventually, if I stuck to my guns, he would change his mind, she would say she's sorry, and then, but only then, would I let them back into my kingdom.

   But Something had been lingering in the distance.  Even when I couldn't, or didn't want to, hear Its footsteps gaining ground, I always knew It was there.  I heard It the first time he told me he loved me, I saw It the days my daughters were born, I felt It in the breeze that tickled my neck, and I tasted It in the depths of my defeat.  But I wouldn't acknowledge It.  No, no, no.  Someone or something else is not going to get credit for all I've done, for how far I've come.

   Then all at once, I gave in.  I was desperate for help and tired of clawing for something further.  I stopped fighting.  I released my fist.  I got down on my knees and admitted my inadequacy.  How could I have fooled myself into believing that I had it all together without accepting responsibility for the outcome?  I had all the answers but I didn't like where my answers had lead me.  I had stood up for myself and fought back my whole life.  I ended up alone.  Yes, I had a wonderful husband and two blossoming little girls, but I was keeping a part of my heart from them.  It was time to relinquish control.

   Suddenly, and I emphasize suddenly, all the things I had yearned for were fulfilled and then trumped with even more incredible gifts than I ever would've thought to ask for.  My demons were falling behind.  Little treasures revealed themselves to me under rocks I had never imagined turning over before.  Now, I was winning. 

   I am not self-made.  "I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Psalm 139:14


Why did he marry me?

   It's no secret that I am passionate about relationships- family, friends, and intimate ones.  I've spent the better part of my life asking myself, "Why?", as if I'm any authority.  I go 'round and 'round in circles wondering why people make the decisions they do in relationships with me, with others.  Do you remember that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie is obsessing about yet another breakup with Big and she's sitting at lunch with the girls reassuring herself that she's got things under control, that she doesn't need to sit on some quack's couch, because she has her girlfriends?  To which Samantha replies something like, "Nope.  You're too much for us.  We've done all we can.  You need to get some help."  That's me- in a nutshell.  I'm obsessive and flawed and hungry to learn more.

   Well, the other night, in one of my self-imposed Why-fests, I asked myself yet another daunting question, "Why did me marry me?"  I mean, really.  Why did he marry me?  We're such different animals.  But in the beginning we only saw our similarities.  That's a funny trick life plays on us.  You meet someone you can't believe you spent what felt like eternity without and you play up all the things you have in common.  "You like Pat Green?!  So do I!  You have tropical décor in your home?  So do I!  You workout but won't give up junk food?  Me too!!  You drive a Jeep Wrangler?  No way!  I've always wanted one of those!"  It's ridiculous really.  Like any of those things matter.

   Another ruse most of us comfortably dysfunctional people fall for is that once you find the man of your dreams, all the hard work is over.  No more awkward first dates, no more disaster break-ups. Gone are the days you had to put up with that one creepy best friend.  Now you can take your head off a swivel and return your focus to one person, instead of darting your eyes at everyone that crosses your path wondering if they're "the one".  Let it out.  Release that big sigh you've been holding in all these years.  You can finally breathe.

   When you start to get comfortable- I mean really comfortable, as in muffin-top, clothes on the floor, haven't-cleaned-out-my-car-in-three-weeks, and the-creepy-best-friend-keeps-dropping-in-unannounced comfortable- that's when it all starts.  That's when the marriage really begins.  Soon enough, you've traveled such a distance, don't quite know how you got there, and you look back over your shoulder.  Puzzled, you can't figure out what just happened between point A and B.  All you're sure of is the two are nothing alike.  And you may ask yourself, "Why did he marry me?"

   Couldn't he see all the red flags?  Of course, I don't consider my need to reorganize the house every two weeks or that nagging feeling I get when I see an unfortunate begging for money as red flags, but I'm pretty sure he does.  We do not agree on labeling bins for the kids' toys and he doesn't give me much cash if we're spending a night in the city (I'm a stay-at-home-mom and I'm cool with it). 

   So, why did he marry me?!  The truth is, he didn't marry me.  He married a picture of me.  He married the picture of me I was selling.  As if standing on a street corner, amidst a bustling art fair, I spotted him and held a beautiful portrait over my head, vying for his attention.  Luckily, his neck turned, his feet stopped, and his chin moved forward, head tilting, intrigued.  He was instantly seduced by the lines, the colors, the composition.  He thought the only flaws in this work of art must be the freckles, especially that one on her lower lip, and he adored them.  I kept pointing out the brush strokes, exaggerating how much time it took me to complete this work, explaining that it really is a bargain, and embellishing a story about the girl in the picture.  Not too much time passed and he decided he must have this portrait.  Something about it resonated with him and he could picture it hanging on his wall so well that it became a part of him.  The poor guy didn't even realize the art he so loved was only a glimmer of the starving, lonely, and slightly unstable artist he hadn't noticed holding up the portrait- me.

   We are quickly approaching our ten year anniversary.  Seven years of marriage, but ten years together.  Now I realize the world is all one, big con.  Here!  Look over here!  Buy this!  Drink this!  Put this on your face! Wear this!  Marry this!!  But God didn't put us together because we're the same, or even because we're similar in ways.  He brought us together with His celestial concoction of magic and logic because we're different.  Our differences challenge us both...at all times...in all ways imaginable- at the store, on the phone, in the car, in the bedroom.  In areas he would never budge on his own, I am the free-spirited force sent to help release him.  Whereas I could blindly follow someone, anyone, into a dark alley trying to help them find their lost kitty cat, he is the one to grab my hand and pull me back, to remind me that I can't trust everyone, and to protect me.

   The truth?  He married me because a Little Voice in the back of his mind told him to marry me.  No, he wasn't entirely sure I was the right choice, and I am entirely sure he has questioned this choice on quite a few occasions, but Something in him was telling him to do it.

   We are together because of our differences, because God wanted to alter certain parts of us to make us better.  How are we supposed to spread love when we'd rather be selfish, to open our arms when we want to retreat, to follow God instead of renouncing Him if we're all walking around in our comfort zones/protective bubbles/monotony cages?  The truth?  We can't.  We can't change the world by living within the world's standards.  We have to think outside the box.  We have to be open to new ideas, new solutions, and even to ideas and solutions depicted as too flawed or too perfect in the past. 

{photo by hiandhello}