Click on the link below to view the original content from Chris and Taya’s page.
Click on the link below to view the original content from Chris and Taya’s page.
As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, a fairly common meme posted by a well-meaning acquaintance caught my eye and, honestly, instantly pissed me off. Y’all have probably seen it a thousand times before. It says, “A child that is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.” There are a lot of variations, but the point communicated is always “Your child’s behavior is a direct reflection of what you ALLOW.”
Ladies and gentleman, this is a problem. I understand that If I had tallied the source and number of times this gem of advice came across my news feed since the existence of social media, I can without a doubt guarantee that it comes from nuclear families with neurotypical children every. blasted. time.
I have a very important piece of life’s puzzle to offer you right now at this very moment. This piece of advice is valuable and actually applies to every person on the face of God’s green earth. Are you ready? Here goes: You cannot control another human being ever, under any circumstances. Game changed. It doesn’t matter if you married them, gave birth to them, or they gave birth to you. You cannot control another human. Guiding our children in the way they should go is crucial, and our hearts, minds, and hands should always be prayerfully involved in shaping them and motivating to be their best selves. This includes teaching right from wrong which requires consistent discipline and follow through. But, notice, “guiding” and “teaching” are actually pretty much the opposite of “controlling.”
When my son was in PreK 3 and 4, we were blessed to have an exceptional teacher (Mrs. Susan Scott) and teacher’s aide (Mrs. Barbara Bedford) to love on him and teach him, in that order. He kinda requires it to go in that order, and they were intuitive and passionate enough to pick up on it and execute the formula beautifully. He loved school and his teachers dearly. However, because of his behavior challenges, developmental challenges and the interpersonal dynamic life has fostered between he and I, it was consistently very hard for him to leave me and go with them in the mornings. He would have better days than others, but usually dropping Kannon off meant hitting, kicking, biting, definitely verbal assault and 65 pounds of boy beef thrashing about in the middle of the hall at my feet. The same person who posted this nugget of wisdom walked by me probably a hundred times during just such displays from my youngest, and the judgement was no doubt, “She needs to teach that child some respect.”
The really hard part about all of this is that child knows respect. He loves me harder and purer than anyone I’ve ever known. But, that child also has behavioral and emotional developmental delays that create huge gaps in logical thinking and make it next to impossible for him to compartmentalize emotion. When pressure is applied to him in any way, positive or negative, its like pulling the pin on a grenade. When a person or situation makes him feel sad, angry, embarrassed, excited, overjoyed or in any way overwhelmed, the dynamite is detonated. His lashing out at me was the response to transitioning between “how I feel with mom” and “how I feel at school.” It was his response to transitioning between “unconditional, hands-on, obvious, warm, maybe-sometimes-grouchy-and-a-little-impatient” love to “conditional, hands-off, cordial, carefully measured” love. Time and consistency will help this little, intense boy learn how to negotiate himself in the world, but he isn’t there yet, and we can’t rush him. We continue to guide and teach. Controlling is a joke with this one, I assure you. But, the common consensus is, “he’s acting like that so there is a problem with the way he is parented.” I am definitely not perfect, but God gave ME Kannon and no one else, so turns out He has faith in ME and no one else to parent this child and be his mother. I love that so much and I take it very seriously. No amount of shade anyone can throw our way will ever alter any part of how I guide and teach my boy as we do life together.
Y’all, we’ve worked really hard to get to where we are in this journey together. I see shimmers of improvement in my boy daily, and I can only hope he feels the same about me. Grace is so vitally life-giving in every second we spend on Earth. Kannon is a person before he is my son. I am a person before I am his mother. We have to learn and grow together and as individuals simultaneously, and we are killing it, World, we really are. Some amazing resources that have helped us use the challenges as growth opportunities are Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child, The Explosive Child, Sacred Parenting, For the Love, Of Mess and Moxie, Boundaries, and many more. While these resources are so worth the money and time to buy and read, they pale in comparison to the amazing support and nuggets of applicable wisdom I have soaked up from my very own tribe. You’re either with us or against us, but we hope you’re with us. The party is over here here, y’all.
Four years ago.
I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post commemorating the Sandy Hook shooting. It said, “We will always remember four years ago: 12/14/2012.”
I stopped breathing for a minute. My back involuntarily tensed and my face flushed. I had to consciously gather myself and remember I was, in fact, at my desk waiting on my software to update. This is probably another reason why you should never open social media at work, even if you have legitimate dead time to fill.
Sandy Hook was definitely devastating, but the date is what knocked the breath out of me. December 2012 was four years ago. Four short years that have seemed like a lifetime a hundred times over. Four years ago was our last Christmas with the boys. It was the last time we saw them, actually. Four years ago, I thought I was losing the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. Four years ago, La Vega hadn’t happened. Four years ago, I still got a quick kiss and tight hug every once in a while from my husband, even though his eyes were empty and his mind had been a million miles away for at least a year. I had no comprehension regarding the strength of mental illness and addiction versus the strength of love. I still truly believed that as long as you had love, you had enough. Four years ago, I was praying desperately for a miracle, completely broke and struggling to pay for counseling and medication that Ren was quite literally flushing down the toilet. Four years ago, my body was in the best shape of my life, but my spirit was broken and my heart was grieving a best friend and life partner, physically alive but ravaged by meth, mountains of whores, false friends, mental illness and other drugs.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly, I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24.
Over the rocky terrain of 2013 and 2014, I shouted this verse at God. I was so angry above all other emotions. I told God time and time again how angry I was that He discarded my desperate, fervent prayers. I spent a few years distancing myself from God because I felt absolutely passed over and betrayed. I believed God had lost interest in me, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. In fact, God graciously and deliberately responded with the complete opposite of December 2012’s disillusioned, impassioned pleas. I received my miracle. Ren swirled down the toilet right behind his expensive medication and rejected counseling. That’s not what I prayed for and absolutely not what I wanted. I prayed for what I wanted, and received what was best. I wanted my husband back. I wanted our family Friday pizza and movie nights with all four kids to continue until they graduated from high school, then maybe beyond that when they came to visit with their spouses and children. I wanted the life I had planned, and I fought long and hard for it. I lost myself in the fight for my family, home and future. I lost the ability to define love for what it was, and was only able to define it by what it was not. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” If you insist on fighting your own battles, God will step back and wait for you to get your ass kicked so miserably that you have no choice but be still. I am relentlessly stubborn, so I’ve taken this route more often than not. It’s taken my entire 35 years and about a million paradigm shifts to learn that I’d rather be still and ask God to fight for me at the first suspicion of battle regardless of how large or small. Life clicks along better that way, and aftershocks and post-traumatic damage are kept to a manageable minimum. Crushing defeats transform into growth opportunities before your mortal eyes. You can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.
Grace is the power we receive to live our life from the standpoint of victory regardless of the circumstances swirling around us. Grace is received only through faith. God’s grace is sufficient when we actively trust that His all-encompassing view is much superior to our ridiculously limited perspective. I am the tuba player marching in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and God is the blimp overhead. It is in my best interest to trust the blimp’s perspective instead of my own. The blimp can see everything for miles. I can see the sweat beading through the back of the ugly uniform directly in front of me. I’m learning. I am learning that what we want often looks completely different from what is best. In this season of Christmas, I am so grateful and humbled that I get what is best, even though I deserve what I want instead.
So many changes have violently elbowed their way into our world over the last four years, and I’ve come to appreciate and savor the value in them all. The process of absolute brokenness and subsequent rebuilding has made me unrecognizable to those who don’t know me deeply. But those who do say I just put the pieces back together differently.
December 2012 was bondage I didn’t recognize as bondage. December 2016 is freedom. I am finally true and honest with myself, which evolves into truth and honesty in all aspects of my life. I spend my time on people and treasures that make me think and feel and laugh so hard I cry. Freedom means pausing my Gabriel Garcia Marquez documentary to watch The Farting Preacher, then jumping right back into Marquez, but pausing once more to catch Jason Boland live on Instagram. Freedom means swiftly and completely disregarding opinions and advice of those who have no concept of what our world looks like. Freedom means putting effort into what I know is important instead of being obligated to extinguish petty fires every moment of every day. Freedom means having the courage to live in the present instead of being comfortably chained to the sinking bricks of the past.
2017, we are ready. Morning by morning new mercies I see.
It’s important to believe in happily ever after. It helps. I don’t know if I’ll ever find that one person to spend happily ever after with, but just the hope it offers is quite comforting. The general consensus of the masses is that we should say, “I love you” more, and there are endless examples of this everywhere we look. “Love makes the world go ’round.” “All you need is love.” Both ideologies are overused and absolutely false. We should mean it more and say it less. Love has become an excuse and a loose interpretation for any number of things, at the very best.
Love is a get-out-of-jail-free card in our society. “But I love you…” And that is supposed to mean what? The definition of love varies so drastically from person to person. We give it so much power. Love can make or break days, months and decades, if we allow it. I sit in random coffee shops and bookstores and work on my computer, read while I’m eating lunch, or write while I’m soaking up some vitamin D in the park. I hear a socially predominate idea of love resonating so much more than any other. “If he loved me, he would have put the clothes in the dryer.” “If she loved me like she says, she would let me go out with my boys.” “If he loved me, he wouldn’t have slept with her.” “If she loved me, she would remember that I don’t like crunchy peanut butter.” I actually have heard every one of these and then some in the last few weeks, and every time, I cringe. This interpretation of love is disgustingly self-serving. Me, me, me. I’ll tell you what it means to love me. This is the modern, stylish, chic interpretation of love. It’s easy, comfy and sexy.
Love is not self-serving. Love is not romance novel material. It isn’t sexy or gentle or smooth. It is serious, intense and uncomfortable. It requires an individual to sacrifice and plow through virgin snow with vengeance and disregard. And you have to do these things and expect nothing. Shakespeare once said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Part of love is not expecting. It is letting go when your brain and pride tell you the complete opposite. Sure, you don’t want to hurt, but loving means you definitely will at some point. Lovers, kids, grandmas and everyone in between will hurt you at some point. No kind of love is immune. Heartache is part of love, and ultimately makes it stronger and more stable. We are taught to avoid heartache and despair at all costs. If you love, these things will find you. But, trust me, its not as awful as you’ve been lead to believe and not all bad, either.
Alice Walker once said, “Nobody is as powerful as we make them out to be,” and that is real talk, my friends. But you are never more powerful and confident than after you’ve conquered a huge storm in your life, even if you crawled all the way through it while sobbing hysterically. You made it through, and it makes you more powerful and better armed to fight another day. And how much more do you have to offer those you love after fighting hard and coming out on top and stronger than ever? So heartache and despair really aren’t the enemies in love. In fact, we need them to chisel us into a more complete person.
Love is hard and intense and really very exhausting sometimes. Please remember, though, that hard and intense and exhausting aren’t necessarily negative. I have been told I love very hard, and I do. I take that as a compliment. If I love you, I will walk through hell for you. I really will, and I will have a smile and a hug for you when we both make it out. I do not expect that from anyone else. Most people aren’t capable of it, and that’s very important to accept. I can take a lot of hits in many different ways, and I don’t mind doing it if it helps the ones I love. Everyone has his or her strengths.
Loving hard means I don’t say “I love you” lightly. It’s awkward when someone says it and you don’t say it back, and that’s been me a lot over the years. However, I’ve never said it and wanted to take it back. Relationships fail as time persists, whether they are friendships, family or romantic in nature, but fault seldom has anything to do with love. We are all human, and that tends to get in the way. Obviously, none of my romantic endeavors have withstood the test of time, but I don’t regret a single one of them. Regret is a waste. I’ve learned from each of them and chosen differently according to what I’ve learned. I’m discovering more about myself, others and the world around me daily. My wise friend, Yvonne, periodically reminds me that it is a process, not an event. I forget that and I push, rushing things and ultimately creating a stressful mess. I attempt to force a conclusion when the process continues to rock along, whether or not I prefer it that way. Love is a process, not an event. As humans, we are egocentric, obstinate and strive to compartmentalize everything we think and feel so we can digest it more easily. This isn’t possible with love. Some things are bigger than we are, and that is okay.
Regardless of the inevitable flaws, being human is lovely and beautiful. Every single member of my family is very human, has unmistakable, obvious faults and every single one of them is immeasurably beautiful. I learned what love means from my family. It sounds cliché, but its true. I was and continue to be taught to love hard, completely and every chance I get. My cousin, Katy, remembers every birthday, anniversary and holiday. She makes every single one of us feel special with her kindness and consideration, and she does it without expecting anything. She’s a busy mom of three and a devoted wife, but she takes time out of her world to bless ours, and that is lovely and beautiful. I remember birthdays days in advance, then I forget, then I remember again in the shower the day of, ultimately failing to recognize them at all. I’m just not that good. We all have out strengths, and that’s not mine.
Love was my grandmother’s strength, all day, every day. She used to peel the strings out of my celery because I didn’t like chewing them. Occasionally, I would get mad for some crazy, unsustainable, nine-year-old reason and scream at her, telling her I hated her. Unmoved, she would grab me, hug me tight and tell me it would really hurt her feelings if she thought I meant that, but she knew I didn’t. Then she’d ask me what I wanted for dinner. Love. No expectations. Hard. Thankless. Life-saving. Life-giving. So beautiful.
That’s how my kids love and that’s how God loves. It isn’t a coincidence. We try other ways and explain it in language and deeds that are easily digested and fit best in our busy, frivolous lives and into this brutal world, but the truth remains. The greatest of these is still love. We just have to dig deep and love like we are made for it, because really, we are.
Being away from the kids for a full week is outwardly refreshing, yet completely unsettling on the inside. The house is quiet, and I need quiet, but it’s the kind of quiet that can make your ears ring and cause your head and heart to explode in earth-shattering, terrifying ways. No kids means minimal distractions. Minimal distractions forces introspection of my past, present and future. All the feels, y’all. And all the feels are messy. And I don’t like mess.
I’ve been participated in Beth Moore’s bible study, “A Woman’s Heart,” with a group of ladies from church. It has been such a blessing and I’ve taken several things away from it. The three most significant Goliaths God revealed to me during this study are fear, pride and my broken heart. The wheels are turning for some future blog posts even while I’m processing through this one. Get excited.
They all follow it up with “this is SO you” or “I automatically thought of you when I saw this…” or something similar. I like that people perceive me a fearless, strong, well-rounded badass. Those are parts of my character that very much exist, but were birthed out of dire and desperate necessity. I promise you I was not born like that, most definitely did not wake up that way randomly one morning, and there was absolutely nothing glamorous or sexy about earning those stripes. Fear changed me permanently. The end result isn’t negative, but getting here was. Figuratively speaking (kind of), I was grabbed by the throat and shoved under the shit-sludge that is life sometimes: betrayal, deceit, hopelessness, mental illness, addiction, and so much fear. I had to find air again by any means necessary, so I did.
Shadowy Fears of the Past
It was someone else’s mental illness and addiction, which in turn manifested the betrayal, deceit and hopelessness, but it was mine all the same. I took the “in sickness and in health” pretty seriously, and Mark 10:7-8 (“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh) echoed in my mind and heart while cleaning up vomit and blood from drug-induced suicide attempts and reluctantly asking my parents for money to cover bills because our joint account was mysteriously empty by the 15th of every month.
The fear that comes with losing your everything is overwhelming. I was afraid of him leaving, losing his mind to a point that was irrecoverable, hurting the children and me to depths that we couldn’t reach again after his wake settled among so many other things. I was afraid of losing my best friend and my life partner, the man I was planning to love forever and die with, The Notebook-style. We all know I don’t open up easily, and when I do, all those eggs absolutely go in one basket. After I realized that he had lost his mind to an irrecoverable point and I had already lost the man I married, I was deathly afraid to breathe, move in any direction, love or live again. I blocked all songs that were perfect representations of our story (Burning House by Cam, Broken Window Serenade by Whiskey Myers, High Cost of Living by Jamey Johnson, Say Something by A Great Big World, I Guess It’s Time by Josh Abbott Band) so I’d never hear them again, then I’d unblock them and listen to them on repeat for days. It’s a very foreign, unnatural place to be. I lost all my eggs in one fell swoop. Crushed. Obliterated. Completely and unrecognizably destroyed. I couldn’t save Humpty Dumpty and put him back together again. I had to separate saving him from loving him, and that concept was so foreign that it didn’t even stick in my mind or heart until a few years post-Humpty Dumpty. The most important lesson I learned while my lungs were screaming for air and my heart was bleeding for a man that no longer existed and fear was dictating every, single move I made: You cannot save people. You can only love them. Stop. LISTEN TO ME. You cannot save people. You can only love them. Give it a minute. Think about it. Internalize it. That person you’re trying to save? They are too heavy to carry. They can walk, but they won’t. Put them down. Love them, maybe from a distance, and take care of you. The past has cultivated too many fears to count. So stop. Leave them all there. Get your ass out of the past and join us here in the present. It may not be what you planned, but it can be a bright and shiny place, depending on your willingness to move onward and upward.
Relative Fears of the Present
I have to be very careful with fear and parenting. I’m too hard and stony with Anaiah sometimes. I know what the world can do to soft-hearted, emotionally-needy females. Fear gets the best of me. People will continue to be selfish and inconsiderate and will ultimately interact with my children accordingly. I have to fight the urge to reprimand my daughter for simply being soft-hearted and emotionally-needy. I restrict Kannon more than I should because he has no fear, so I desperately try, unsuccessfully, to reign him into some kind of submission. I intentionally impose fear on him, or my version of fear, which he effortlessly brushes off without a thought. I’m still figuring this parenting thing out, obviously. The most important step I’ve made in this arena so far is recognizing what concerns are driven by fear and which aren’t, and responding accordingly. We generally try to destroy what we fear, and I am making a conscious effort to let my children develop into their own without imposing my fears on them and subconsciously destroying the parts of their personalities that elicit fear in me. I fail miserably sometimes for sure, but hopefully I will continue to get better as the years tick by, and offer apologies freely as I recognize shortcomings or overkill on my part. I’m sorry goes a long way, thankfully.
I have also had to recognize when others are speaking from the platform of fear versus a platform of reason. Well-meaning people who sincerely love you will be afraid for you.Your issues and decisions will keep them up at night and will create anxiety, causing them to be nauseated to the point of skipping meals and falling behind on projects at work. This is not your problem and their fear is not your fear, regardless of the source. Pillars of our support system believe that they know better than we do and know what’s best for us, however most of the time they aren’t selflessly motivated and are not engaged enough to provide us with a sound and fortified course of action. A person close to me has told me on more than one occasion, “If you keep in contact with Ren and allow him to be a part of the kids’ lives while he’s in prison, you’ll be more likely to go back to that relationship when he’s out.” This person is speaking to eighteen-year-old me. They don’t know thirty-five year old me well enough to weigh in on the extremely loaded and complex topic of contact with my ex-everything and the father of my children. They are imposing their unfounded fear on me, in response to who I was half of a lifetime ago. They are implying that my decisions are emotionally driven, and emotion drives nothing in my life anymore. I have feelings and recognize them, but have the ability to respond devoid of them. I love this about thirty-five year old me.
Very few people in this life will actually take the time and spend the effort it takes to know you and attempt to understand your perspective, then help you according to what they know and understand. If no one has ever held a loaded gun to your head, you may not tell me what you would or wouldn’t do if you hypothetically experienced that. It holds no water. Emotional, mental and spiritual intelligence are required to really hear someone else, and people generally are exhaust their reserves on themselves. The people who do shed their masks and step in your nasty, unsightly issues voluntarily usually don’t come to you with advice or opinions. Their feedback is usually in the form of actual time and help. They are available to move furniture, fix your lawn mower or keep your children without asking questions or expecting explanations. These are the people that have known the kind of fear you know and recognize that adding their fears to the fire will not diffuse the problem, but will cause an explosion. While spending time with someone very close to me recently, we happened upon the subjects of personal parameters, family and the last two years that Ren and I were married. This person said, “I didn’t always understand or agree with what you did or the decisions you made, but it all makes perfect sense now. You knew yourself and your situation from the inside and were thinking about the big picture. All I could see was a lot of red flags and trouble.” That observation is monumental, and applicable to almost every situation we face personally where well-meaning, loving people close to us feel the need and inclination to drown us with their versions of our plights. When people ask you how they can help you, tell them, “Pray.” When they don’t ask and offer unsolicited advice, the best course of action is to smile, nod, disregard, then continue on your path. Shut out the voices, shut out the opinions, shut out the relative, perspective-based fears of others and keep moving forward to the best of your ability. Your ability, your path, your circumstances, your life. Yours.
The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be
I can remember being in the fifth grade and knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I would be blissfully married veterinarian with six kids, a lovely two story house, twenty-eight dogs, a boat and at least a dozen horses by the time I was twenty-five. My plans changed a little by the time I graduated high school, significantly by the time I graduated college and the only thing that remains now are the two kids. Life creates a spirit of fear. The more life we experience, the more potential that fear will be among our most dreaded but familiar acquaintances. It sometimes becomes such a common, constant emotion for us that we actually feel more comfortable being diseased with fear than being overcome with peace. My future is changed forever because of fear created by events, people and situations in my life.
But my future is changed for the better. God does not always take us the easy way on purpose. Surprise! Some of that hard, nasty shit? We need that. Often we only recognize the most fearful, horrible parts of our lives as absolute negatives that broke us into a million pieces… but is broken pieces all you took away from those times? How do you feel after you come out of that hell? What about when you finally resurface from the shit-sludge I mentioned before, grip loosened from your throat, and fill your burning lungs with air again? There’s power there. And also more love and compassion for yourself and those around you.
Fear has the potential to cripple us and keep us in bondage forever, but it’s our personal choice to allow it. We have the ability to respond to fear with bold courage. A conscious, firm personal commitment is involved, and it will be uncomfortable, but it’s so worth it. That may mean standing still when we would otherwise act. It may mean throwing ourselves full-force into something we would much rather avoid. Everyone’s journey is different. Experiences increase our self-discipline, creating and fortifying boundaries in our life. You can fall in love again, but you now have the ability to use your brain AND your heart and not just the latter. You immediately notice warning signs you didn’t before and can respond accordingly, instead of being slapped in the face years later. Fear has a place in our futures, but only when we channel it into power, love and self-discipline. My thirty-five years have been what they are for very specific reasons. Some are revealed to me now and then, and some I will never know. There’s so much comfort in knowing in my heart that I am not in control of my life, and I am only part of a much larger picture. When I view myself in this way, any fears present in me shrink and anxiety fades to bright, bold expectancy. I am strong, I am driven and I give grace as it’s been given to me. I have known fear in my life and will continue to brush up against it now and then, but it does not define me in any way. We have hope and a future brighter than we can imagine. Shed your bondage and reach out for it.