August 13, 2018

Eighteen and Thirty-Seven

Eighteen years old and at my mother's funeral, I refused to go into the sanctuary until they had closed the casket.  After watching my vibrant mother self-destruct to drugs, alcohol and depression, I had watcher her morph into another person and couldn't imagine seeing her dead body dressed up inside  a box.  I had to concentrate to muster up tears that day.  I couldn't cry.  Everyone came up to me tearful and full of sorrow, saying how sorry they were for me.  Yet, I remained stoic and numb.  Tears that ordinarily come easily for me did not come that day.

I had already mourned my mother's death in the two years prior to her passing.  Watching her change and succumb to addictions and several asshole men was a devastating thing to watch as a teenager.  I knew she was dying a little bit more with every passing day.  All of my tears had already been cried, so the day she died I almost felt relieved.  Some of my pain would stop because now my mother was dead and gone, not just avoiding me and cutting me out of her life because it was too hard to see me.

My marriage was like that.

The day I went down to the courthouse and filed for divorce, I pressed inward to search my feelings but I couldn't find sadness.  There was peace and then guilt for feeling peace.

According to some of my family and most of my friends, I should definitely not be feeling peace when I am stepping out of God's will and ending the covenant I made to my husband before God.  I was afraid to ask Him why I felt that way.  Had it come from Him or had He left me now that I had committed what some believe to be an unforgivable sin?  Does God allow us to feel His peace when we've committed the magnanimous sin of divorce?  I was scared to hear those answers.

Thirty-seven years old, no tears fell on the day I went to finalize the divorce.  Seeing the words "decree of divorce" with our names written in black and white brought more peace.  I breathed deeply and that familiar feeling of relief set in as I knew some of my pain would stop because our marriage was officially and legally over.  All that I had been holding and living with was no longer a burden I had to bear.  It felt good to let it go.

Now I hold the tension of relief and sorrow.  My ambivalent feelings of abundant happiness and dark sorrow have been difficult to navigate through.  Daily, I feel the weight of the pain and hurt I have caused my ex-husband, the boys and our family and friends.  Those are the places I easily find my tears again.  I've held both of my boys in my arms weeping with them saying I'm sorry, over and over again; giving them permission to feel whatever it is they do, even if it's anger or hurt towards me. I imagine that is something I will always carry as this was a decision that I did not come to quickly or easily.  And it was costly - just as costly as I imagined it would be.

Maybe we're all given a certain amount of tears meant to be cried over one thing or one person.  Or maybe the lack of them, or the running out of tears means our grief has moved into the phase of acceptance and something inside us moves forward with surprising ease.  Because during the really, really hard times, we felt our feelings and cried our tears and screamed our screams.  We didn't stuff or suppress them or numb them away with too much pizza or tumblers full of vodka.  We gave those feelings words and paintings, tattoos and photographs because we learned to turn pain into beauty.

Remaining present in the sad, gray moments and feeling my longings collide with reality was a daily fight for me, especially in my marriage.  But I fought, and I felt it and I know in the depth of my heart that I gave my all, my whole heart and whole effort to my marriage.

The shift came and the hard decision I wrestled with for so long was made, my soul was finally at rest.  And regardless of what anyone else thinks or believes or assumes - there is peace.

August 3, 2018

December Fifteenth

"God's reputation is on the line when it comes to your marriage."

My Grandfather spoke these words as he performed the wedding ceremony of my cousin and his beautiful bride.  Her elegant ivory dress fluttered in the mild December breeze.  I tried to focus on it and emotionally check out of hearing their wedding vows, but the heavy words he spoke managed to hit my chest like a sharp arrow.

I imagined the word G-O-D spelled out in beautiful sparkling letters on a plaque that you might find at a Home Goods store, lying in the mud, broken and damaged because I had put it there.  I was going to "drag his name through the mud" and ruin His good name because I was wanting to end my marriage.  Swallowing the ball in my throat, I heard a whisper of truth.  My reputation and goodness doesn't depend on yours.  I am still God and I am still good and I am still reputable.  Even if I mar the sanctity of marriage by choosing to divorce my husband?  Yes, even then.

Vivid memories of the same vows I made to my husband years before echoed in my mind.  I had promised my love and fidelity for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer.  All of that until death.  We hadn't physically died, but something had.  It felt like I was married to a corpse.  I had told him that before, but being an emotional leper, it never motivated him enough to change or seek the care and counsel he needed on his own.

When my cousin and his new wife joyously walked back down the aisle, I felt the tension I was holding release a little.  I made it through the hardest part of the wedding as I consciously separated my heart from my body so I didn't sob and cause a scene.  I had wanted to break down and let everyone see how wrecked I was.  Someone in my family needed to know, but I knew it would break everyone's hearts.  My parents had divorced and I swore that I never would.  Telling my family was going to be the hardest part of the choice I was making.  It would come with devastatingly great cost and I knew which relationships would shift and look like silence and "disfellowship" because I was in sin.


As the night went on and margaritas flowed, I skipped around the wedding grounds like the social butterfly I was.  Mingling, drinking, dancing, laughing; taking the silly photo op pictures with ugly hats and large glasses.  I felt as sparkly as my sequined dress and felt aware of my beauty and magnetism of others to me.

That evening, when the tequila had settled in enough to make me bluntly honest, I found myself outside with my Robin for a smoke.  A habit that had been sneaking back in over the last few months when I felt the need to calm and de-stress.  I admitted all I was holding; that I was going to ask him for a divorce and couldn't be married to him anymore.  That I wanted my life to look different and I felt like staying married was killing my soul. I had done Bible studies and accountability groups.  I prayed the prayers and sought counsel and therapy.  I was honest and open with him how I was feeling and what I needed from him to make it work.  Nothing changed and nothing happened and I was just done.

She spoke words to me that night I'll never forget.  "When you're the outcast Jennifer, I'll be here for you.  I'll love you.  I'll understand.  When others have walked away, you'll have me."

The woman I once had contempt for because she started off as "the other woman," was now the only person with enough understanding and grace to truly love me in the midst of this.  God really does work all things together for our good.  He took what happened with my parents and my Robin and used it to care for me when I was in desperate need of unconditional love in the exact same place I swore I'd never find myself in.

Later that night, I danced my ass off.  My husband stood there and watched me and didn't cut in when another man asked to dance with me.

And that was my marriage.  Me out on the dance floor, vibrant and living.  And him standing by the wall, gray and watching me live.

July 26, 2018

December twenty-third

Two days before Christmas and twelve years to the day he had asked me to marry him, I sat across a table from my husband with my future aching thick in my throat.  It was time to give words to the tension that had been palpable between us for months, maybe years.  I didn't believe that it was a mere coincidence that this was the day I was also going to ask him for a divorce.  It was a tragic full circle moment and I felt acutely aware of our beginning and ending. I was trying to make it through the holidays before saying a word like DIVORCE.  After all, Christmastime isn't the time for marriages to end right?  The illusion of what wasn't there between us anymore felt like death to my soul and I couldn't go on any longer without speaking my truth.

The words came easily and without tears.  I reached deep for them because I felt guilty that I didn't have any to cry.  I had given him thousands of them over the years, most of which fell to the ground lonely and lost.  He cried more than I expected him to.  He wailed and sobbed and I had only ever heard him cry like that one other time when we had to give our dog away a few years back. I wasn't sure what to do or say.  Sorry didn't feel appropriate and I knew I couldn't fix whatever he was feeling.  He could tell I was firm and settled in my decision; that I was already gone and had been for a while.  He walked away from the table that night visibly rejected and wounded.  My emotions were all running one in to the other - relief and hope. Deep sorrow and heartache, especially for all I knew I would cause.

We went separate ways that night.  My phone started blowing up with text messages and phone calls from concerned friends he had already spoken to, shocked by the news.  It wasn't the time to talk or answer questions.  Desperate to feel something else that night, I put the conversation and my marriage on an emotional shelf to be looked at later.

I walked into a bar without my diamonds sparkling on my left ring finger.  I drank until I was warm and head fuzzy, and until someone elses's lips had touched my own.  And it was sad.

December 26, 2017

Snowfall

The last time I had a real encounter with snow was the winter of 1985 when I wasn't quite four years old.  I have vague memories of seeing it, though there are pictures of my tiny self wrapped in a white winter jacket and purple mittens standing next to a tiny, lumpy snowman that I built with my dad.  He recalls the night it snowed and the glee I expressed from watching it come down and land on the swing-set in our backyard.

Chances for snow, especially at Christmastime, are unheard of in south Texas.  Most holiday seasons are mild and cool and having a 75 degree day and barbecue for Christmas is more tradition for us than roasting chestnuts over an open fire because baby, it's cold outside.  Every year though, the Christmas dreamer in me wishes and hopes for snow, because nothing could be more magical than snow in December.  My boys pray and ask Jesus to make it snow every year and I usually explain that while He is in control of all things, Jesus isn't like a magician that you ask things for and he makes things appear magically.  Though every once in a while, He totally shows off because He is actually able to make things appear out of nowhere because He is Jesus.

In early December, we had a cold and rainy day and the forecasters were calling for snow that night.  I rolled my eyes and laughed it off until my social media blew up with everyone seeing snow in their area.  I stood outside for a while watching the light rain, feeling silly for hoping that it would actually snow.  As I stood and waited, I noticed a few floating flurries mixed with rain.  I stepped out on to my driveway and literally watched the rain turn into snowfall.  It changed in a breath and took mine away as it did.  Before I knew it, giant white, magical flakes were falling from the sky and landing on my nose.

Snow fell soft and beautiful.  It covered the grass and the trees, the bushes in our front yard and rested on the windshield wipers of my car.  I made snowballs with Tommy and Jacob, all of us gleefully laughing as we threw them at each other.  It was the first snowball fight for all of us.  We all got cold and our fingers went numb so we sat bundled up in blankets by the front door to watch it snow some more.  Todd had to work late that night and I noted that I was strangely relieved he wasn't there to share in the moment with us.

He would have wanted to kiss me in the snow. He hadn't kissed me since August, and I wouldn't have wanted that kiss.  Not from him.  Not now.  Not anymore.

It was December and it was snowing and I was Lorelai Gilmore with all of my giddiness.  Yet, my soul was aching with sorrow and I was holding it all on my own; a secret I wasn't ready to burden anyone with yet.  Not even my husband.  And perhaps I was still holding out and hoping that my marriage wasn't really over.  The Savior was coming and bringing with Him miracles and hope.  But was there hope for my marriage?  Did I even want there to be?

The whole experience left me feeling alive and breathless.  Surrounded by the snow He sent, I tucked the beauty of the moment into my heart and breathed it all in to remember it on the not so beautiful moments that were sure to come.  Sitting on my front porch bench, I looked up at the dark night sky and felt flake after flake fall to my face, mixing with my brokenhearted tears, and felt something settle within me.  I didn't need to be kissed in the snow to enjoy the magic and beauty of the moment.

God's love enveloped me that night.  The same God who knows the depths of my heart and still loves me.  And that was enough.  It would always be.

December 25, 2017

Songs of Christmas

It's Christmas morning and I was awake before dawn. I made a cup of coffee and turned on the twinkle lights on our Christmas tree and sat with a blanket.  I welcomed the solitude and quiet, feeling the rest and peace that had settled in my soul even though it was accompanied by grief and sorrow.  My heart is heavy and sad this Christmas.  I didn't bake my cookies or dip my pretzles and we didn't drive to see the lights in Windcrest.  There was no downtown date night on the Riverwalk and I wasn't at church yesterday to hold a candle and sing O Come All ye Faithful.

I wanted to remember the feelings and songs that echoed the tender and sorrowful places in my heart.  I wanted to come back and read here that on Christmas of 2017, the Christmas that would be ushering in the endings of old things and beginnings of new ones, that my heart sounded like these songs.

To those of you who come read here, I hope you have the Merriest Christmas.  Hold your dear ones close today and wherever this day finds you, I hope you feel wrapped in the hope and love that this season brings.

With Love,
Jenn


Something about December - Christina Perri

White Christmas - Kenny G

Christmas Lights - Coldplay

Jingle Bells in minor

O Come, O Come Emmanuel - Steven Curtis Chapman

Welcome Christmas - Glee Cast (from: How the Grinch Stole Christmas)

Heirlooms - Amy Grant

Grown up Christmas List - Kelly Clarkson

A Christmas Alleluia - Chris Tomlin

All is Well - Michael W. Smith & Carrie Underwood

Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan

Love is Christmas - Sara Bareilles

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - Sam Smith

November 11, 2017

A Hallowed Heart

It was raining without clouds.  It seemed fitting somehow to drive through blue skies on the way to the cemetery, rain still managing to find us.  Gray road stretched out before me, I kept wondering how tragedies and heartaches that happened over a lifetime ago could feel this new.  I have lived with loss and know the darkness of death, but grief still takes me by surprise.

My boys were in the back seat in ties and black Sunday shoes.  This was their first time time to go to a cemetery and they wanted to dress nice.  When my Uncle died two years ago, they went to the funeral, but the family chose to wait until now to bury his ashes.  He was going to be laid to rest next to my mom and brother.  My feelings were so overwhelming I could feel them aching in my throat and surging through my legs that made me want to run.  It felt like something was trying to come out of my body and I quickly recognized the trauma tied to those physical sensations.  I closed my eyes and took breath after breath, long and deep, until I felt my core settle inside of me.

We arrived at the place.  Sacred earth housing the bones of loved ones and memories never made, I got out of the truck, holding my son's hand in my own.  Feelings began to swirl inside of me.  My brother's ten year life, how betrayal and alcohol destroyed my mother, stealing her spark and light and heartbeat.  I was feeling forgotten and missed, much like my mother's headstone in that sticker burred country cemetery.  I showed my boys where they were buried.  I could feel bellowing sobs forming in my gut as I saw Tommy touch my brother's grave, his eight year old fingers tracing the letters "The Greatest Blessing," that was etched into gray granite.  I put my hand on my mother's stone. "Child of God, Beloved Mother of AJ," it read.  I didn't remember that was what it said and the words sat heavy with me.  She was my mother too, yet those words felt true.  She was more his mother than mine and the ambivalence I feel about her was as tangible as the crunchy dead grass beneath my feet.

We laughed and cried and prayed together as my Uncle's ashes were put into the ground.  I think we all felt the finality of something, ever aware of a unique hole his absence has created inside of each one of us.  His wasn't the only hole inside of me.  I thought about AJ and my mom, Aaron - my first love, the death of dreams and the unmet longings I carry on the outside and inside of me.  It looks like a double-chin and a large belly, and feels like a watercolor mess of tragedy and indescribable joy, splattered and swirled together with darkness and light.

My face was wet with tears as we walked back through the cemetery, the living among the dead.  You can't walk on hallowed ground and not feel the gravity of death and how it has changed you.  My heart like a headstone, chiseled and marked with all of the pain, all the joy and the broken, beautiful pieces of my story that make up who I am.

The clouds were gray and pregnant with rain.  Eyes and sky both crying as my husband reached for my hand.

November 4, 2017

Going Green and Halloween

Watching the excitement in my boys build up the closer it gets to Halloween, is one of the moments in parenthood that I enjoy the most.  Early in October, costumes were selected and planned for and every day all month long, I was asked the same question: "How many days until Halloween?  I want it to be Halloween now!"  While some of that was looking forward to a bucket of Skittles and chocolate bars, they were just as excited to dress up.  Since they were babies, that has been my favorite part - watching their personalities embrace their favorite superheroes and movie characters.

This year, we had a very cool Spiderman (with web wings - and you should know that is the most important part of the costume according to Jacob).

And a Tony Stark! 
Ya'll.  I pitched the idea to Tommy months ago about being Tony Stark for Halloween and to my utter glee, he was totally down for it.  I made a light up arc reactor out of a tap on LED light, drawn with the symbol and covered in some light blue fabric to give it a bit of a blue color.  I found the really real glasses online that he wore in Civil War because I couldn't help myself.  The day they came in the mail, Tommy was with me when I went to check the mailbox, and he let out crazy happy screams.  Watching his joy and excitement about them was the best thing ever.  I darkened his hair and drew on Tony's facial hair which was his favorite part. His costume literally made my night.

And did I dress up as?  Well, I had originally planned on being Disgust from the movie Inside Out.  Unfortunately, the green dress I ordered didn't come in until the day after Halloween so I had to improvise.  
 I'm Hulk's girly twin sister.  Obviously.

When I finished my costume, I came out of my room to show the boys and they squealed with excitement.  Jacob lit up and said, "Oh mama!"  He ran to me and hugged me and said "I love you so much!"  He stared at me in wonder and asked how I made myself green and laughed when I put on his Hulk hands.  In that moment, I could see in his eyes how much he loved seeing me dress up with him, entering his world of play and pretend and imagination.  He beamed with pride at me all night, "Look at my mom!" he would say to everyone.

We made a few stops to see all of the Grandparent's.  The boys filled their buckets with all of the candy and knocked on a few doors.  Each time, Jacob would show the person at the door his web wings and Tommy held his Ironman glove out.  I tucked away another year's worth of silly and fun memories in my heart, praying I would always remember the fun we had together.  Of Jacob's running and posing as he would use his web shooters. And of Tommy's swagger in the way he walked and carried himself all night long.
I'm not certain how it's November already. 2017 feels like the year that went by in a blur.  Time seems to be going my faster, my boys growing tall and confident right in front of my eyes.  I find myself in that place in motherhood wanting time to slow down a little bit.  The years I have with them like this are going just as fast as every other mom told me it would.  Tommy will be a grown man in ten years.  Jacob starts Kindergarten next fall.  A couple of gray strands here and there show up on my head of hair reminding me that I'm growing and aging right along with them.  It can't be stopped but it can certainly be lived fully. 
Tommy and Jacob, how I love you so.  You are my deepest joy and my greatest pride and being your mama is the best thing I've ever done.  I will cherish these memories, this childhood you got to live with me, forever and always.