I’m back to revisiting the sometimes ugly truth and guts of my life. The kind that makes most people blush and want to turn their heads. The kind that isn’t written in 140 characters. So if you prefer the sugar-coated, shined up, quick version of life, this post is not for you. You’ve been warned!
I am happily married to a man I love and adore who loves me back. We value one another and look forward to a long future together. But it wasn’t always this way.
Twenty-one years ago tomorrow two young kids took vows and made promises they didn’t even understand. And we had no idea that we HAD NO IDEA!! We were in love, we wanted to be together, that’s all there was.
The early days were filled with giddiness about being able to stay all night together, make love whenever we wanted, have ice cream for dinner, create whatever life we wanted. It was exciting and new. We were grown ups doing the most grown up thing there was- being married.
It was not without its bumps as we learned to navigate one another. Me getting my feelings hurt when he was NOT excited when I’d bring him breakfast in bed at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday. It’d take years before he finally told me (or I just figured it out) that he’d much rather me let him sleep until 11:01 and bring him lunch in bed. A gift is not a gift if the receiver doesn’t see it as such. Breakfast in bed remains, for me, a great treat to receive.
I held my husband in such high regard that he was on a pedestal. High above the ground where we mere mortals live, I elevated him to a status so high that he could nearly have touched Heaven. Like Charlotte Bronte writes in the 24th Chapter of Jane Eyre, “my husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol.”
Spoiler alert- this is a HORRIBLE idea! Mere humans are not meant to be elevated to such a status.
I didn’t do it intentionally. Somehow I thought that loving my husband well meant loving him above all else. I elevated him to the status of God without knowing it. And him, reveling in the love and attention of his new bride, went willingly, neither of us realizing the trouble we were creating.
I spent years thinking that if I loved him better, kept the house cleaner, was more adventurous, met his needs, embraced his family, encouraged his work, etc., etc., etc., (and blah, blah, blah) he could love me in such a way that the hole in me could be filled. I loved and adored him with every ounce of me, and surely if I was good enough, he’d love me the same way and I would feel complete.
When that didn’t happen, all I knew to do was try harder. I tried screaming and yelling. Begging and pleading. Dancing and singing and fighting and demanding and…
the hole remained. Taunting me. Hurting me. Like an open wound that won’t scab over, the pain was raw and real and unceasing. And the chasm it was creating in our marriage was widening.
This was not the happily ever after that Disney advertised. This was not what I thought I was signing on for. This is not the life I had planned.
This is where I wanted to be, with this man. But how could I live with a giant hole in me? Exhausted, resentful and wanting, in what could best be described as a nuclear sized tantrum, I flailed, threw myself around and screamed until the pedestal, the man on it, and I lie in a broken heap on the floor.
Only pieces of us remained. Fractured, splintered beyond recognition, we were two humans left with a mess that neither of us knew how to fix.
As horrible as the mess was, there, lying in the wreckage, was something amazing. Clear as could be, I saw the hole I had been working our entire marriage (& possibly my entire life) to have Thad (or food or attention or …) fill, and it was a God-shaped hole. Just as a lock has only one matching key, there was no way Thad was ever going to be able to do the work that only God could- he just wasn’t the right shape to fill this hole. It wasn’t that he didn’t love me enough or even that he didn’t want to- it was impossible for him to do what we’d both been expecting of him.
This revelation changed my life. His life. And our marriage.
I’d be lying if I said putting the pieces back together was easy. I’d also be lying if I told you there weren’t days, weeks, and even months that we both didn’t think maybe it wasn’t worth the effort. Perhaps walking away was for the best.
But God was working on my heart. He was reminding me of the commitment I made. He kept blocking the way out and putting people in our paths that redirected us back. He was convincing me that I was enough, and that His love was enough to sustain me. He was teaching me that my worth and value wasn’t dependent upon Thad’s ability (or inability) to show me love in the way I craved it. Those things were completely separate and unrelated.
We dug in and did the work. We let God make beauty of the ashes we were left with. I realized that loving my husband well didn’t mean loving him above all else. Loving him well meant loving God most. And slowly, often painfully, we were recreated into something new. Something better.
The structure of this recreated marriage looked quite different. With a foundation built on God and not up high on a man made pedestal, there was much smaller a distance to fall. No one was an idol. We were two broken humans, doing the best we could to be broken together. Like pieces of a puzzle that finally fit, we had a better understanding of the picture God was creating with our life together.
The joy that comes when you finally feel like you are getting it right. Our love for one another has grown in ways that it couldn’t have before. Thad is free to love me as he can, not bound to feel he failed because he couldn’t love me “right.” And I can stop feeling like I’m not enough (for him, for the kids, for the world) because that hole is finally filled with the only thing that would have ever worked- the love of a Father that thinks I’m awesome.
I am glad to be doing life with my husband. I feel loved and wanted and secure. I look forward to the years ahead and to creating the rest of our story.
But it wasn’t always this way.
This life is not perfect. There are a thousand areas where the world crashes in and turns us on our heads. But there are moments, some short, some long, when all is well. These are the moments you hold your breath hoping for.
This morning was one of those moments. My children, 2 and a half years apart, both teenagers, sat on the piano bench, side by side, working together. Natalie is trying to teach Jackson how to play. They are laughing and arguing and surprising one another. A back and forth exchange. One teaching, one learning. It is one of the sweet moments you hope for as a parent.
This, this is what will bind them together. These memories, created together outside of the influence of their father and me. A shared interest, one they discovered they had on their own. This will leave marks on each of them, maybe without either of them even realizing it. Fingerprints on one another’s hearts that remain long after the moment passes.
This is what you hope for as a parent. That beyond sharing the same parents, the same DNA and the same upbringing, they will share some tangible aspects of life. The memories that they can have long after we are gone.
I want this moment to stand still. Create a space where they can do this for as long as they want, without the distractions of the world. Because soon enough the world will come back in, patience will run thin and tempers will flare. And, just like that, the moment is gone.
Scripture tells us that we are not created with a spirit of fear but of power. Try telling that to my fear of heights!! Or my unease of the ocean.
I try hard not to let fear be the thing that holds me back. I don’t want being afraid to be the reason that I don’t do things. So I often push myself to live beyond my fear. And, often, amazing things happen.
We recently went to the beach as a family. Unlike many people, the beach is not my happy place. I don’t love the million places that I find sand weeks later. When I’m in the ocean, I feel like I am an uninvited guest in the house of a million sea creatures, much like I view a spider that makes its way into my kitchen and takes me by surprise. I hate the seaweed and often find myself looking just like this when I feel something touch me in the water. https://m.imgur.com/gallery/uvcOzI tend to get motion sick just standing in the waves. And with my chubby thighs, you cannot imagine all the chaffing!! 😳
All that to say, it takes some effort for me to love time at the beach. There are a lot of self pep talks. “You can do it. The kids want you to play in the ocean, and there won’t be many opportunities to do this before they’re grown. Be brave; choose courage!”.
So I did! I ventured out with them way beyond where I felt comfortable. I let the waves crash on me. I even got brave enough to throw my chubby thighs onto a boogie board and ride in until I was beached. And the result was wonderful. The more I did, the braver I felt. Each time it got easier and easier to choose courage. Laughter replaces fear. I felt myself bubble with excitement, and even a little bit of pride, that I wasn’t letting being afraid stop me from enjoying time with my family.
One morning as we sat on the balcony, we saw someone parasailing off in the distance. My son commented that he thought that would be fun. And, oddly, there was something in me that felt drawn to agree.
In a moment of “now or never” I booked an outing for the two of us to go create this memory together (the other two declined the adventure and opted not to awaken at 6:30 a.m. on vacation to go 600 feet in the air). It was a done deal. Already paid for, no backing out!
What had I done?? I don’t like the ocean. I don’t like heights. What ever made me think combining the two was a good idea??
Meanwhile, back at home I had a friend who was sitting at her mom’s bedside at the hospital everyday of our vacation. Her mom, wracked with pain, recently found out that the source of that pain was metastasized breast cancer in her spine. I hated being far away and not feeling like i could do anything. I spent time praying for her; I asked God to see each crashing wave as a request for her healing. But I wanted to be able to do something more. I knew that they were afraid. Not the same kind of afraid I was about parasailing. Big, giant, life changing, powerless fear.
So I made the decision that this parasailing adventure was what I could do. I was going to surrender my fear and dedicate it as a sacrifice for my friend’s mother. I know it may sound crazy, but this felt like an active thing that I could do, a symbolic sacrifice that I could make on her behalf. I couldn’t do anything about her fear, but I could dedicate overcoming mine to her.
I prayed God would see this act and bless it. “See me surrender, trusting you fully, with this small thing because I believe you can do a mighty thing in her healing. Please make it so.”
As the boat went out that morning, I was anxious. I was glad to be with my son, glad to be seeing the sun rise on such a nice day, but my gut churned. I pretended to be brave. This was an act of worship.
Our turn came. We got hooked to the sail. No turning back. “Please Lord, take my fear and surrender and let it be a blessing.”
Off we went. Up, up, up. From the moment we lifted off, I was filled with delight!! Not an ounce of fear remained as they extended 800 feet of rope, the wind hoisting us higher and higher. I was giddy. There were no words that could capture the joy and wonder and true delight I was experiencing. Way up there, above the noise of the world, closer to Heaven, there was so much peace. And I wanted my friend and her mom back in that hospital room to have that. I wanted them to feel supported and carried like I was. I wanted them to be able to leave the fear behind so they could know this delight.
I wish that I could express to you the degree of awesome that I felt that day. Words fail me. Even after we were back on the ground, I’m not sure my feet touched down. I was reminded that we are often rewarded when we push beyond what is comfortable and do what we fear. I was reminded that, big or small, God hears the cries and prayers of His children. And I was reminded that sacrificial acts on behalf of others is one of the most amazing ways to connect yourself to humanity.
I can’t take my friend’s mom’s pain away. I can’t heal her body. I can’t eliminate the fear that they both feel. But I can, in my own life, choose to do my part to push myself beyond my fear, surrender, be brave and be carried up and away.
My life is full of amazing people. Strong and beautiful women that live their lives working to serve others. Mothers that put all their efforts into raising good children. Daughters that care for ailing parents. Men that love their wives and children well. Husbands that work hard to provide for their families. Neighbors that look out for others.
People I don’t even know, doing their part to make my world, our world run and operate as it should. People that clean up after us, without thanks. Folks that haul our trash away, unknown to most of us. People that bring our orders- whether that be food to a table, medicine to our homes or packages we’ve ordered.
Each of them, a human, a person working at their job to serve others. And I want to remember to be grateful. These people are making my life easier. They are freeing my time up so that I can do something else. Focus on something else.
Today, no, always, I want to focus on seeing how full my life is, how full the world is. I want to put on a lens of gratitude. I want to see through eyes of appreciation. And I want to help others to as well.
I want to help others see how lucky we really are. To recognize that, whether it’s half full or half empty, if there is water in the glass, it’s worth appreciating and being thankful for.
When that happens, when that’s our perspective, our lives become full. Much fuller than we deserve, if we’ll just learn to notice.
Wrap me in a blanket of your love. Cover me in the shelter of your arms. Kiss my cheeks with the warmth of the sun. Draw me close like the moon draws the ocean to the shore. Whisper to me sweet sounds like the birds singing. Make me feel as if I am the only one in the world, as if we are the only two. If just for a moment, let us disappear into one another. No beginning, no end, just two pieces of the same whole. Perfectly imperfect. Wholly together.
It’s been two years since you left this earth. Free to roam the streets of Heaven. Able to breathe deep breaths without struggle. Free from the cancer filled vessel that had you bound in this life. And I am so happy for you. Forever in the presence of our Lord.
But I miss you.
I miss the way you loved my children. I miss the way you could gently push me to complete the projects that I felt “too busy” to have gotten done. You made me feel accomplished. I miss your help. The tangible kind, the folding laundry and fixing breakfast kind. But also the less obvious kind- the quiet support and shared wisdom.
I miss hearing stories of your girls’ trips, the adventures that you’d go on. What lovely part of the country you’d checked out most recently. I miss your tales of work. The dedication and devotion you had to doing it so well. And, while it surprises even me, I even miss the occasional all day shopping trips you’d take me on.
I miss the gifts you’d get me. Things that I didn’t know existed, and until you introduced them to my life, had no idea I needed. (How did I live without a purse organizer? And those handmade scrubby things have changed my life!!!)
I think of you so often. I wonder if you’d be pleased with us. Would you think we are doing a good job? I know you’d be proud of the kids. Well, proud of everything but how they are keeping their rooms.
I hate that you aren’t here to see them growing, maturing, becoming. You’d love it. And they’d love having you cheer them on.
I am so grateful for the time I had with you. So rocky at first, but as the years went on, I treasured our relationship. Having someone love your son and occupy so much of his life after you’d done it for so long, that can’t be an easy thing. But we figured it out, you and me. And in the end, ours was a relationship that I cherished. I like to think you did too.
I was a lucky one. I often said in the mother in law lottery, I was a big winner. I got you!!!
All I know is that, when it’s my turn to wear the title Mother-in-law, I hope I wear it as well as you!
I miss you.
I have this ache in my chest. I’ve noticed it happening off and on over these last few weeks. And also, a small catch in my throat. One that keeps me from being able to swallow at times, and occasionally from speaking clearly. These two symptoms are sometimes accompanied by the watering of my eyes. Not necessarily watering that breaks the barrier and makes its way down my cheek. More often than not, just floating on my lashes.
I’m realizing that it has been happening as I see pictures of young adults dressed for prom, young men and women in caps and gowns, familiar faces beginning to appear on drivers licenses, and children that used to be small now as tall as the parents they are standing next to. It happens at my house when my son is gone with his girlfriend and my daughter is discussing plans for her upcoming 13th birthday or when there is no one there but me.
It’s not a completely unfamiliar pain, though it is beginning to increase in intensity. It’s the bittersweet ache of watching my children grow. The joy of seeing them learning to navigate their lives and the terrible pain of knowing this phase of my life is almost over.
As I drive around with no one in my car, with only my own plans on my calendar, the expanse of the freedom has me feeling a little lost. What to do with this newfound time? And how to learn to sit with the pain of it so that when all my days look like this I don’t completely crumble.
I want this for them. I want them to know the joys of accomplishment, the power of contributing, the knowledge that comes from experience. And how do I give them that without also having my own heart break into a thousand pieces? Or perhaps that’s the job. Doing my best in the years that I have them to make it all count, have it all matter. I empty the vessel of who I am, pouring it into them so that they can be full. And then, as the cracks come, I trust that God will pick up the pieces and repurpose me. That He’ll honor the work that I’ve done and allow the joy of watching them go be greater than the loss of having them gone.
At least that’s my prayer. Because today the ache is great, and I have to believe that there is some relief for the pain.
What will I be when I grow up? I didn’t have any idea as an 18 year old girl graduating high school. I never had visions of myself as a teacher or a vet or an, anything, really. I’m not quite sure I imagined life after high school.
So I picked a major and went a direction. I studied hard, worked fairly hard, and… changed my major. As it turned out, while I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I learned I didn’t want to do THAT when I grew up.
New major, new idea, pursued something else that seemed like a better fit. Picked a broad field, something helpful in scope, surely it would translate into some job. Still no vision of what I was going to be when I grew up, but I went about the day to day of getting it done.
Graduated with a degree and honors, and still I had no idea what I was going to do. I got married right out of college (like 4 weeks out of college 😳), so a wife was apparently something I was going to be. Grown up or not, that was going to be my first thing.
Working a job, still no “career” I couldn’t see myself as one thing. At that point I only knew what I didn’t want to be when I grew up. Mother- I didn’t want to be a mother. Pretty sure I wouldn’t be good at it, very sure I didn’t want to share my husband and mess up that gig, no mothering for me.
Until I did want that.
So, wife and mother have filled my days. And I love it. I’m grateful that I’ve been allowed to spend my time being those two things- focusing on the joys and responsibilities of each. Savoring them, some days more than others. Enduring them, also some days more than others.
But as my kids get older and begin to outgrow this nest, the question is coming back around. What do I want to be when I grow up?
What I enjoy most and the things I feel I’m good at are things that I’m not sure I can find anyone willing to pay me to do. I like to write. It feels good to get it out and to maybe allow someone else to grab hold of my words to allow them to feel less alone- like a piece of wood floating by a person stranded at sea. A safe place to cling to if just for a minute.
Or being a friend. Not sure that’s something I can put on a resume. Listening to a friend’s heart, hearing her pain or her joy and sitting in each alongside her. Sometimes, when it’s required, speaking difficult truths in love to help her see the forest and the trees. And laughing with her. Definitely laughing. Know anyone hiring for this position?
Professional hugger, toucher, hand-holder-maybe I could find someone to pay me for this, but I’m afraid we’d probably be at odds about the true nature and duties of the position. 🙄
As I talk with all of these high school kids approaching graduation and ask about their plans for the future, I guess it just reminds me. It reminds me that perhaps, for some of us, our lives aren’t so clear. We may spend our days figuring out what we don’t want to be when we grow up. And hopefully, as we whittle away at what we don’t want there, we’ll find that we are making a worthwhile life in the meantime. I hope so at least.
I guess I can let you know when I grow up.
I host a weekly prayer group for moms. Every Monday we meet, and we always focus on one attribute of God and give Him praise for it. This week I chose God is the Provider.
During this time of the year it often seems time is short and schedules are full. We have a bunch of things coming up- many school events that require volunteers and food, competing sports schedules for two kids, concerts, etc. I picked God is the Provider because I wanted to remind myself that I serve a God that is capable of making all of the impossible things on my lists happen.
I saw the next couple of weeks laid out before me, and I was beginning to freak out. It seemed like it was more than could be done. My human heart was coming up empty. So, I picked something that I needed to focus on- an attribute that I needed to remind myself was real.
I wanted to trust Him to provide the money our PTO team needed for an unexpected expense we had. I needed for Him to stir hearts and push people to sign up to fill those empty volunteer spots- urging people to give of their time. I wanted to let go and count on Him to provide the food we needed to spoil our staff and teachers next week at a luncheon and to feed companies coming to talk to our students about jobs. I prayed for Him to provide protection over the hearts of a group of girls facing a difficult situation. I needed Him to make a way for me to be in all of the places I was supposed to be without dropping too many balls. I needed so many provisions.
And to my great delight, He has been faithful!! Through some effort of a great leader, the money needed was given. Volunteers are coming forward to help serve and provide food. The group of girls persevered and rose above their circumstance, their hearts intact. I was even given back an evening that was otherwise claimed by a sporting event. As a reprieve, it was moved to next week, providing me a small pause in the middle of my crazy.
And this morning, as I heard the birds singing, I was reminded of God’s promise and prompt to us in Luke 12:22-28, 32.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you- you of little faith!
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
And this week the kingdom has come in the form of extra time, donated dessert, volunteer hours filled, local business support, protected girls and the provision of so much more.
So, like the birds, I sing!! I sing praise. And like the flowers, I glory in splendor. The splendor of my God, the Provider!!