Psalms 145: 13b The Lord will keep all his promises. He is faithful in all He does.
An Open Letter To My Husband On Our 18th Anniversary;
For some reason, I remember every little run in I had with you before I really knew you. I remember driving with my sister to my friend Shawna’s house at 12 years old who happened to live on your street. She saw you mowing your lawn and said, “Hey, that’s my friend Brad Vantine!” I just tucked that memory away. A few years later, my sister was in Writer’s Club with you and I remember reading your poetry and thinking, “Woah, this guy seems so happy to write such dark stuff.” That same year, you tagged along as a third wheel on a date with my sister and her boyfriend and I remember her coming home and telling me about how funny you were. You were also her drivers ed partner and she’d come home irritated with how much grief you’d give her about her driving skills. My sophomore year in high school, we both did the same play, The Secret Affairs of Mildred Wild. You did it at the college. I remember watching you perform and thinking how amazing you were. I even remember where I sat watching you. That same year, I went to your house to hang out with my best friend and her boyfriend who happened to be your best friend. We hung out with you and your girlfriend, who I thought was very sweet, but I think that was the first time I saw you and thought, “Hmm. There’s something about this guy I really like.” Each one of these meetings or conversations I heard about you I remember so clearly. This isn’t something that happens to me with every person. God had set you aside for me before I even realized it.
You're quite memorable!
Me with Shawna (who lived down the street)
Finally, in October of 1997, God decided it was time to bring us together for good. I was in a production at Weatherford College of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. You watched the show and came to the cast party afterward. Though I didn’t stay long, I was there long enough to write my email address on your forearm in sharpie. Later I learned that was very effective because you weren’t able to get it off for a very long time so you had plenty of time to see it and think about it. The next week at school, I asked my friend James if we were going to have another party the next weekend because I wanted him to invite you again. Seeing as how theater kids were always up for a party, we did plan another party. We had emailed a few times that week and you let me know that you’d be there. You asked me out on a real date at the next party, which I eagerly accepted.
From that day forward, we emailed questions back and forth to get to know each other better. On our first date, you picked me up and took me to Olive Garden and to a movie. I was taken back at how sweet you were to me. You were so respectful, funny, kind and just made me feel so safe. I didn’t ever want to leave your side. During the movie, you held my hand and something weird happened. I felt this weird shock feeling run up my arm. It sounds silly and cliche but I knew that this was the real deal. When you walked me to the door and kissed me goodnight, my knees literally buckled. Luckily for me our sofa was right inside the door. I walked inside and collapsed onto the sofa. I just sat there, staring into space. I have no idea how long I sat there. I was dizzy. My world was changing and I knew it.
From that day forward, I was hooked. I’d stop at Super Save to buy calling cards so I could call you long distance since it was too expensive to call you long distance in Stephenville. We emailed constantly. I’d sit in the car, talking to you on my parent’s bag phone because it had free long distance after 9:00 pm. I’d walk around with my head in the clouds, thinking about you. I’m sure I was disgusting to be around. Luckily for me, you were just as bad as I was. We were a pitiful sight and I love to close my eyes and go back there. It’s not hard to do.
By mid December, you told me you loved me. I loved you too. I knew it but it hadn’t even been six weeks. I was scared to death of losing you. I knew if I fully let go and told you I loved you too and we broke up, I’d never be okay again. The first time you said it, I smiled, said “Thank you,” and went inside my house. From then on, I think you saw it as a challenge to get me to say it back. You told me multiple times a day for the next couple of weeks. Each time, I’d smile or pat your arm. I’d say thank you or give you a hug but I wouldn’t reciprocate. I think you learned a little about my hard headedness during that time. Finally, on New Year’s Eve, I decided to give you what you wanted most. On January 1, 1998, the first words I said to you were, “I love you, too.”
Those butterflies you gave me never faded. I kept thinking they’d settle down, but they didn’t. I was madly, crazy, stupid in love with you. It was so hard to be in different towns. Even though we were only an hour away from each other, it might as well have been continents away. I never wanted to be away from you for a minute. We’d find time to meet up in Granbury which was 30 minutes away for each of us just to see each other for just a little while. No one had ever made me feel like you did. I could be with you 24/7 and never get sick of you. To this day, you’re the only person I can be with constantly and not get tired of.
In August 1998, you proposed. You didn’t have Pinterest boards or Facebook to help you out with great ideas, so you don’t have to keep beating yourself up. I can tell it my way since it’s my letter. We went to eat at the same Olive Garden that we went to on our first date. Then you took me to The Rose Gardens where you got down on one knee and asked me to marry you. (I’ll leave out the part where I was you were leading me and I tripped on the curb or the roses were dead because it was August. The only reason I remember those things are because those are the parts you tell, anyway). I just remember being so happy. We set a date for the following June.
June 12, 1999 was the big day. I was young. I was only 19. People probably think I was crazy to be getting married so young, but I had never been so clear on anything. It was the best decision I ever made. I’m so glad I met you when I was so young and married you when I was young, because I have more years to spend with you and more time to make memories with you. We aren’t promised tomorrow so what is the point of putting off what is meant to be? Our wedding was a whirlwind. I barely remember it. I mainly remember what was captured on our video and pictures. Then we were off to South Padre for our honeymoon.
I remember it felt so surreal to be married. As we were flying out or checking into our hotel as a married couple, I couldn’t believe this was real. I was Mrs. Vantine and not Miss Bennett. What the what? This was so grown up. I couldn’t fathom it but I loved it. I didn’t ever want to come home from the trip. It was so wonderful to just be away together, being married, enjoying life and basking in the afterglow of the wedding.
It didn’t take long until I had baby fever. Once again, I was young. I was 21, but I knew what I wanted. Hayley was born about 9 months after my 21st birthday. She was a challenging baby. We learned a lot about teamwork and what sleeplessness looked like. We laughed a lot at our inadequacy as parents, marveled at this amazing child we had created, and grew closer through our love for this beautiful girl.
Three years later, we were brave enough to do this again. Mia was so much easier. She didn’t cry nearly as much. We felt like we had the hang of this parenting thing. We were pros, right? Ha! Toddler years hit Mia with much more venom than they did Hayley. We’re never prepared. We were still a great team. Together, we can do anything.
Then, out of the blue, we were expecting a third. I never felt like we were done having kids, I guess. It was a boy. We couldn’t settle on a name easily like we did with the girls. We tossed around Aidan or Jaxon. Nothing seemed right. That’s because nothing was right. Just a few weeks after learning that he was a he, we learned he had passed away. We decided his name was Matthew, for some reason. It was a name we’d never even discussed. I clung to you like I never clung to you before, but for the first time, you didn’t know how to help me. You wanted to fix this and you couldn’t. You watched me sinking, and no life raft you threw me worked. It wasn’t your fault. Nothing could have helped. It wasn’t you who I needed to save me. I needed to work it out with God and within myself. I know it was excruciating to sit and watch me struggle and not be able to fix it. You are a fixer. You are frustrated when you can’t make a problem better. You did everything I needed. You stayed constant. You never left. When I finally came out of it, you were still there, waiting. That means the world to me. Thank you for your patience.
During that struggle, Zane, came into the world. He was what kept laughter and silliness in our home while I was gasping for air. I’m not sure what would have happened if he hadn’t been born. I hate to speculate. His funny way of looking at the world, his hilarious sayings have made us all take things less seriously which is such a gift.
So here we are, 18 years in. There have been some high highs and some low lows, but my love, there is nobody else in this world I would want to walk this path with. You’re my best friend, you’re my favorite person, you’re my deep talk partner, you’re my long walk walker, you’re my editor (so I hope this doesn’t suck), you’re my everything. I love you with everything I am.
I want to smile and be happy
Yet I want to crawl into bed and hide.
I want to be around people
Yet I want to seclude myself from the world.
I want to stay busy so I'm not thinking about him
Yet I don't want to think about anything else.
I want to go visit
Yet it's the last place I want to be.
I want to celebrate his life
Yet I'm so angry he's not here with us.
I want to celebrate his brother
Yet it feels like a betrayal.
I want you to care
Yet I don't want you to pity.
I want to cry
Yet I don't want to live in sadness.
I want to laugh
Yet I don't want him to feel left behind.
I want to rise above this
Yet I find myself sinking deeper.
I want to sink deeper
Yet I find myself casting out hope to others.
I want to help others
Yet I'm not sure I'm strong enough.
I want to offer advice
Yet I don't know that I have any wisdom.
I want to live
Yet I cling to the dead.
The constant back and forth
Is making me dizzy, nauseated and tired
Yet I can't stop the circles.
My love. My laughter. My joy. You have no idea how much healing you have brought to my heart. When I thought I couldn't go on, God brought you to me and I was lifted out of the darkness. Since the day I met you, my heart has been full to the point of exploding with love. I've probably held on too tightly to you, clinging to every step you take because I know how dear life is now and how quickly things can change. You've taught me to cherish every single moment and I have.
Now you're six. You're starting Kindergarten, much to my dismay (and dread, honestly). I dread it for myself, not for you. I know you will do amazingly. You're ready to spread your wings, I'm just not ready for you to leave my safe little nest just yet. I know from watching your sisters how quickly life goes after Kindergarten. In the blink of an eye you'll be discussing colleges and SATs and career paths. It goes so quickly and I'm not ready for it. I know you are ready though and that's what matters.
I know you are smart and capable. I know you're friendly and outgoing. I know you're funny and you make friends easily. I know you'll be fine. I also know you have a hard time sitting still. I know you have a hard time not talking. I know you have a hard time not saying exactly what comes into your mind and all of these things can get you into trouble at school. I know you get frustrated when you can't do things perfectly. I know you get frustrated when people tell you things you don't agree with. I know you want to be the best at everything you do and when you aren't, you will act out. Take deep breaths. Keep your cool. Say a prayer. Know that nobody expects perfection from you and that you're loved just the way you are. No amount of awards or attaboys or accolades can change the depth of my love for you.
People won't always be nice and neither will you. Give grace just as you hope they will give it to you. People won't always understand you, or the way you think or act. Don't let their opinion of you change who you are. I pray you keep your free spirit and creative mind. Don't let haters squelch it. It makes you who you are and if you turn it off, you're denying yourself and denying the world of your greatness. Hold tight to who you are, because I love you to the ends of the earth.
As you turn six, I see my baby disappearing before my eyes and a handsome, funny, smart boy taking his place. I'll always remember your chubby little baby cheeks and your funny antics as a toddler, but now I am able to enjoy a new side of you. You're hilarious and creative. You're smart and imaginative. You restored my joy during my darkest time and have continued to light my way since the day I learned you were on your way.
I'm so incredibly thankful for you and I want you to always know that you've changed my life for the better. Kindergarten will be hard for me but it is easier to let you go knowing how much you're going to love it and flourish.
Thank you for your unconditional love. What would I ever do without you, my darling boy?
I'm not a fan of skating. Even when I was a kid I'd hold on for dear life to that rail on the side of the rink. I'd grasp it like my life depended on it. I'd watch with envy as those other kids would skate effortlessly by me with no need of a railing for stability. They looked so free and happy. Then there was forlorn Carol clumsily traipsing along the safety rail, miserably waiting for everyone in my party to say they were ready to go home.
Every once in awhile, I'd get bold and let go of the rail (though I'd skate close by...just in case). I'd feel like all was well when insecurity would overtake me and I'd be back to square one, back on the bar, wishing time away. Rarely did I fall because rarely did I let go of the sides, but rarely did I have any fun either.
Moses has been on my mind a lot lately. I've been thinking about when God called Moses to talk to Pharaoh. Was he afraid? Absolutely. He told God in the beginning he had the wrong guy. He told Him to send someone else. He told Him that he wasn't up to the task. Yeah, he was afraid. When we are walking into something new, we will be afraid. When we are walking into the unknown, we aren't going to like it. Turning around and running to the sidelines of safety would be much easier, but it's not really a life I want to live. Yes, we may fall, but it's better than holding on to the railing all of our life and never trying to skate.
I just finished reading the book The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson and in it he says we will be afraid, but we have to take courage with us. Courage isn't the absence of fear, he says, it's choosing to act in spite of fear. When we are afraid, we have to confront what's frightening us or it will control us. We can't just shut the fear off, but we can stand up to the one who makes us afraid because God is on our side and He's much bigger than anything that can scare us.
I quit my job as a teacher this year. I felt called to do something with women who have lost children as I have. I had no idea what that was when I turned in my notice. I was scared, but I also trusted that God was calling me away and He's never before led me astray. I knew that He would make my path clear. I wasn't too worried. Then May rolled around and I still didn't know what I'd be doing for a job in the fall. It was okay though, God had it under control... right? I had all summer to figure it out. We are coming up on August now. I don't have a job prospect and honestly, I'm not feeling a strong urge to go find a job. I still feel the same call to help women who are suffering from pregnancy loss, but that's not a job! My brain tells me I need an income, but my heart tells me to be still. He has me where He wants me. Am I afraid? When I think about it logically, I am. I feel we need my income, but when I feel it in my heart I'm not afraid. I know I'm walking with Him...on His path...He's guiding me. When things don't make sense at all and they feel right, I'm usually headed in the right direction.
I don't know what He's got planned for me, but I can take courage and face the fears I'm feeling. I have faith that He won't leave me. Will I fall down? Maybe. Will it kill me? No. Will it hurt my pride if I fall? Probably, but that's okay. It probably needed to be hurt. Will I get back up and learn from my mistakes? Definitely. Will I get stronger when I let go of the railing? For sure. I've never seen an Olympic skater holding on to the railing. We've all got to let go sometime and trust that we've been taught what we need to know to skate without the bar. We have people nearby who can help us up when we fall, but most importantly our Father is there and He will never leave us.
So is Sadness really an enemy I have to fight, or a friend I'm avoiding because I don't like conflict? When I first saw Inside Out in the theaters, it was on Mia's 11th birthday. I cried harder than a Disney movie should make a person cry. It hit so close to home, though. For a children's movie, it had a lot of depth. The underlying message was that we don't need to push away our sadness. Joy kept pushing her aside, afraid she'd corrupt their girl Rylee into a depressed girl, but by not feeling her sadness, she became empty inside. Once Sadness was allowed to go in and do her thing, everything was resolved. Rylee didn't sink into a deep depression because she felt her sadness, instead she was able to be herself again.
Sadness, when pushed aside constantly makes us bitter, hard, cold and ugly. We sometimes have to let her in to do her thing so we can move forward. I have to trust that she won't drag me down into the depths of despair where I imagine she lives. Feelings are okay and need to be felt.
I have spent so much time pushing Sadness into a corner. I run and hide, but she doesn't go away. I keep busy to avoid her. She becomes larger than life to me, someone I fear. When I actually face her, however, I find that she's not as scary as I thought she was.
I'm slowly realizing Sadness isn't my enemy. She's there for a reason and it's best to feel it now before it is overwhelming and out of control. There is a difference between sadness and depression. When sadness is ignored for years and years, she turns into depression. That's why it's so important not to cast her aside, but to listen to what she has to say, even if it hurts for awhile. "Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5a)
I've found myself lately trying to fill every single minute of my day with the company of another human being. I'm afraid to be alone. I'm afraid of my own thoughts. I'm afraid of the stillness, of who is lingering in the silence.
Please don't leave me alone. Please entertain me. Please just talk. I don't care what we talk about or where we go, just distract me. Keep talking and I will be able to avoid the great big scary giant in the room, slowly following me. He seems to leave me alone as long as I'm with others, as long as I'm busy. As soon as I am alone, I feel him inch in closer and closer to me.
Today, I can't escape. Today, I let him come over to talk, with no one here to distract me. Today, I sit and invited the Sadness over.
"You've been following me for weeks," I say. "I've been trying to avoid you but you won't go. I ignore you. I stay busy with any and everything, but I can always feel you near. As long as I'm moving, you can't catch me."
Today I stopped moving. Today, I had nowhere to run. Maybe I was tired of running. Maybe I missed my old friend, Sadness.
On days like this, I remember the times Sadness was there for me. These days, I could depend on him to catch me when no one else was there. On days like this, I'm angry at the rest of the world for speaking against him. They medicate me to keep him away, but he never leaves. He's patient.
They don't like me when I'm friends with Sadness. They don't understand me. When we are friends, I want to crawl in bed and stay there. He doesn't mind. He tells me I deserve it.
"Stay there as long as you need," he says. "They can't, won't and don't want to understand."
"Don't bog them down with your problems. Tell them to me," you tell me. "I'm the only one who cares."
"I'm the only one who has been there through it all, even when you turned your back on me," you remind me.
"The people who 'love' you? Where are they? They have lives of their own. They have troubles of their own. Don't bother trying to get them to understand. You don't want them to know the real you anyway. They would hate you."
"I've got you now, haven't I? Falling deeper. Deeper. Deeper. How easily you fall when you're alone."
Last week while eating lunch with friends, Zane accidentally took a big drink of his friends soda instead of his own chocolate milk which he was expecting. He immediately spit the coke all over his grilled cheese sandwich and french fries, rendering the whole meal inedible. I’ve felt like him before though. It goes right along with the sermon at my church today entitled, “Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates.” I’ll be going about my life when suddenly, I’m not anywhere near where I expected to be. Our pastor, Jon, reminded us that we have to keep our focus on Jesus and not focus on the situation that is causing the anxiety or you’ll end up like Zane, ruining a perfectly delicious sandwich. We control our reactions to the situations.
In May, I ended my career as a teacher because I felt confident that God had called me away. Away to what, you might ask? That, my friend, is an excellent questions. It’s a question I ask Him many times a day myself and an answer I still don’t have a clear answer to. When my eyes start to stray away from Him, when I start to look at my circumstances and our finances, I start to stress out. It brings to mind two Bible stories.
The first is when Jesus calls Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water with him. Peter does it. He hears the call. He steps out of the boat. He stands up, his eyes fixed on Jesus. He takes one step and then another. Amazing. Suddenly, he starts looking around. He starts to notice the waves crashing around him, splashing his legs. He realizes that this isn’t natural. People can’t do this. People can’t walk on water. He starts to sink. The moment he took his eyes off of Jesus and focused on the situation around him, the situation consumed him. He had, as Jon called it today, “success amnesia.” He’d forgotten the times Jesus had come through for him in his times of need, when he’d trusted. In poor, daft, Peter’s sake, it had only been a matter of minutes ago. Jesus asked him, “Why do you have such little faith?” I feel myself walking on the water. I’m trusting that He will provide. I know that He called me out of the boat. I’ve stepped out. I’ve kept my eyes on Him, but lately, I’ve started looking around and seeing the day coming up when my paycheck will stop coming. I see the bills pouring in and I start sinking. I cry out to Him to save me and He does. Time and time again, He saves me, but He keeps asking me, “When will you believe that I will provide for you? Have I ever let you drown?”
I’m reminded of the father who asked Jesus to heal his son. Jesus tells him he must believe. The man proclaims, “I believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” The man said in the same breath that he believed but he wasn’t sure he did at the same time. He thought he believed, but maybe he actually didn’t because he was consumed by worry. If he truly believed, he would have believed from the get go that Jesus could save his son. I am like this man. I say I believe, but then when I see no change in my situation in my timing, I start thinking I need to take matters into my own hands.
When I keep my eyes on him, when I believe He is who He says He is, when I believe He loves me and works all things together for my good, then I can take the stress from my shoulders knowing that I’m not in control. I never was, and I don’t have to be. What a relief. I don’t want that responsibility. My responsibility is my reaction. All I have to do is take my anxiety to my Father and let Him handle it.
The song Good, Good Father always hits me differently on the Sundays we sing it, depending on my mood and where my head is that day. There are days I've felt so appreciative of God. I've been able to proclaim loudly "You're a good, good father. It's who you are and I'm loved by You!" I can say and sing those words with confidence. Everything in my life is falling into place and I can see His hand at work. It's easy to believe He's a good, good Father on those days.
On other days, when I feel like I've been cut off at the knees, it's harder to say those words with as much confidence. Every step I take feels like I'm stepping deeper and deeper into quicksand. I'm sinking fast. I can't understand why a good, good father would allow his child to sink, despite their cries for help. I'm gasping for air. Am I really loved by You, Lord? I love my kids and I couldn't watch them slip away without doing everything in my power to save them. It's harder to keep singing "You are perfect in all of your ways" on days like this.
No matter where I am, however, He IS perfect in all of his ways. Isaiah 55:8 says, "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,' says the Lord, 'and My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine." He knows things we don't. He understands things we don't understand, so when our prayers aren't answered in the ways we would want them to be answered, we have to believe that "God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them." (Romans 8:28) It's during these hard times that we need to trust Him and lean into Him more, claiming that He IS a good, good Father and we ARE loved by Him. It's who He is and it's who we are. During these times, I've seen my faith grow the most, when I've clung to Him when I understood him the least.
If Zane wanted to sit down and play where I knew there were fire ants, he might get mad at me when I wouldn't let him. He might not be too eager to think that I was a great mom because he wouldn't know why I wouldn't let him play there. He might throw a fit and refuse to talk to me. He might beg and plead. I, most likely would lead him to a different spot to play and he would eventually be happy with his location, even though it's not where he thought he needed to be. or in his timing. Who knows, maybe he would walk by where he wanted to play and see the ants at some point and understand that I wasn't saying no to be mean, I was saying no for his protection. I had more information than he did. I saw the big picture that he couldn't see. I said no because I love him. Yes, I could have let him sit in the ants, but why would I do that when there is a better place to sit, away from the ants?
If Mia wanted to stay in her room all summer on her phone, and never come out and see the daylight, I would know that's not in her best interest. Sure, that might be what she wanted, but knowing statistics on what happens to a person who stares at a tiny screen all day, mixed with the lack of sunshine and interaction with people would lead me to have to tell her no. She might not like that answer. She might think I'm not such a great mom when I had to tell her to put her phone away, but I do know what's best for her and that is what I want for her. In the long run, she would understand as well. Yes, I could give her what she wanted. I could let her stay on her phone all day and that would make her happy in the short term, but that's not what would be best for her.
When Hayley has a problem with a teacher or class at school, I've had to let her deal with it. She has to learn to deal with people and difficult situations. Can she come to me for advice? Absolutely. Can she tell me her worries and fears? Of course. That's what I'm here for, but if I saved her from every situation, when she was older and came across harder situations, she would never know how to deal with those because she never learned how to deal with the smaller ones on her own. Yes, I could step in and do it all for her. I could probably make the whole problem disappear for her and make her happy, but what would she learn?
Sometimes we are being protected. Sometimes we are getting what we need, though it's not what we want. Sometimes we are having to learn to do things that will prepare us for the future. He says no because He loves us. He says no to protect us. He says no to prepare us. We have to understand that He makes all things work together for our good. Not our timing. Not our plans. His. No matter what, He's there every step of the way, cheering us on. He IS a good, good Father.
She was running, exhausted and alone
A marathon she didn't sign up for.
Now she’s all alone.
Now she is hiding in the deepest, darkest corner
Of a basement that’s never seen the light.
Now she busies herself with straightening papers
In the middle of a tornado.
She was insistent on leading her family,
But she had no map.
She was blazing a trail, fast and furious
But to where?
She might be the first one there,
But once she arrived, she would find
She was alone.
She was too busy forging ahead.
She didn’t realize that she was alone.
Those she loved most couldn’t…
Or wouldn’t keep up.
They stayed back or took a different path.
She alienated those that meant the most.
Those who would have given her the world
Didn’t get the chance.
She had places to go.
She assumed they were still there.
She never slowed down to check.
Now the race is over.
The race she never signed up for.
The race she didn’t want to run,
But since she was there, she’d better be first.
Even if it was the wrong way, the wrong race.
Now she’s all alone.
So I've taken on a challenge to help better my writing skills. After reading a book by Jeff Goins, then listening to his podcasts and reading several of his articles, I have decided to do his 500 Word Challenge. In this challenge, I'm to write at least 500 words a day and post them. Here they are and here they'll stay. I won't post them all here. Some are being submitted other places, but the ones I can post, I will.