Peace and Trust Amidst the Pieces

Sometimes life just breaks your heart. And the smallest of things can push it over the edge and shatter it into a million pieces.

The smallest of things was the Pinewood Derby car.

Rewind to the weekend of January 13th.

Two weeks of constant hammering resulted in a very down, disenchanted me.

Girl Scout cookies were upon us. Anaiah usually comes in about last in her troop because, alas, I work outside of the home. I’m unavailable from 7:30 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday. This town and all it’s organized forces are pretty much built on the idea that #1) Mom stays home and Dad works, or #2) there’s a huge local network to support Mom, Dad, or both if they aren’t together and both work, or #3) there’s a huge local network to support Mom and Dad if they are together and both work. Either way, we don’t fit and normally our cookie sales show it. We fell off the nuclear family bus somewhere in the bowels of 2012, and that pretty much determines our fate with the townsfolk. We can’t do booths or deliver cookies during the week and we don’t personally know many people here, so Anaiah ends up selling the bare minimum and I hear about it until the next cookie season. As a side note, “personally knowing” someone here apparently means I’ve gone from kindergarten to twelfth grade with them, or I am in their immediate or extended family, or I was once in their immediate or extended family, or we share children, and since none of those apply to us central Texas natives, our cookie sales and social acceptance hover around a solid D+. Cookie season is an adventure.

Work took an unusually trying turn. I love my job and most of the people there, but a few scattered weeks of projects that never quite end had my anxiety through the roof. I didn’t have a chance to adequately complete my normal job duties because of all of the last-minute additional tasks thrown my way, and no structure or routine makes me a little crazy. Or a lot crazy. Winter weather or even just the potential of winter weather makes work exponentially more frantic…. and brine season is upon us, friends.

Katy (my cousin), Jarrod (her husband), and I decided to start the Whole30 on January 7th. Jasmine (my best friend from high school) and Keith (her husband) happened to be starting at the time. Katy and Jarrod live in Waco and Jas and Keith live north of Ft. Worth, so my support is long distance, but they’re amazing and it works. I deemed it a perfect time to jump off into the challenging pit of no dairy, legumes, sugar, gluten, or alcohol… right as cookie, derby car, and brine season kicked off. Oh, and I also committed to working out at least four days a week, drinking a gallon of water a day, reading at least 24 books in 2019 and completing two Bible studies simultaneously with two different groups of people, which requires me to get up at 4:15 am and go to sleep around 11 pm or so.

Which brings me to January 13th, sitting in my car by myself in my driveway, sobbing maybe a little bit uncontrollably, with my kids standing outside of my closed car door, trying to figure out if this was the time I finally lose my ever-loving mind and drive away, or maybe my head dramatically blows off due to stress and self-deprecating mommy guilt, or we all get back in the car, head south to the mall and buy a ton of stuff we don’t need with money we don’t have, efficiently and effectively boarding the over-compensation bus, which always dumps us off in the same place it picked us up, just more empty, broke, and completely convicted of our failures as humans in general, where we just suspected it prior to boarding.

January 13th we had a Tiger Den meeting. We don’t have a den leader, so the parents are working together to get us through this year. We have really great kids with really great parents so it works out. The meeting went well… mostly us moms sweating over the glue gun making bird houses while *someone’s* son (mine…) taught a captive audience how to make fart noises with his armpit. You can only get so much productivity out of seven-year-old boys on a Sunday afternoon… and who’s to say the fart noises won’t take them farther in future circles than the bird houses.

The meeting was wrapping up, and we all went outside to scout for birds. While the boys are looking with one of the dads, the moms gather around and start discussing the upcoming derby car race. I do not join in the conversation. The overwhelming consensus is that the cars are taken care of… they’re in the garage in the dads’ domain and the moms haven’t really seen them since they came home in the box. If you’ve never had derby car experience as I never had, “in the box” means a single block of wood in a box. Eager Cub and Boy Scouts across the nation carve this block of wood into a car (with the help of an experienced saw-wielding grownup, usually who helped create them) and design it to their liking, with the end goal of it being the fastest in the pack. They race them together on a predetermined date and the Derby Car King is crowned.

Anyway, this mom hadn’t looked at the block of wood, either, but it wasn’t in Dad’s garage awaiting clear coat. It was in its original box, in my center console, because I was hoping if I didn’t look at it it might go away or we might get the flu or Jesus would come back and I wouldn’t have to look at it and figure it out. How many days off, how many YouTube videos, and how many return trips to Home Depot and Hobby Lobby would I have to make to ensure that this block of wood evolved into something my son could take in public and race against his friends? Over the prior two weeks, so many situations had translated in my mind and heart to me falling short of enough, and this stupid block of wood combined with my son’s excited and expectant heart just broke me.

I said my holly jolly goodbyes to the other moms at the meeting and at least made it back to my driveway before the crazy came untucked. I found myself staring at this block of wood in my lap and couldn’t stop the tears, which soon became loud sobs that I couldn’t even pretend to reign in. About five minutes into my own personal train wreck, Jasmine called. She was calling about Whole30, but quickly asked what was wrong. I tried to dry it up, but thankfully twenty years of reading between my lines is an expertise of hers, and it saves me so many clumsy words. I very loudly told her that the kids were staring at me from outside the car and I had this block of wood in my lap that I could not transform into a car. She listened to me go on for a few minutes, then said, “When do you need it?” I said January 27th at 1 pm, and she said, “Easy. Keith is doing ours. He can make it, I can overnight it, Kannon can paint it, and you call it done.” I argued for about half a second, but I think that was out of some strange but innate southern politeness code, because honestly its close to the best thing I’ve ever heard. She told me to stop worrying about it and drink my water. I love her so much.

The derby car was built, primed, and overnighted on January 21st in plenty of time for Kan to decorate it and make it his own. It was sent via UPS, and was originally scheduled to be delivered on January 22nd. I tracked it the morning of the 22nd, and delivery had been pushed to the 23rd. The UPS guy usually comes as I’m heading back to work after lunch, so I normally get all of my deliveries in person. He’s pulling in my driveway as I’m getting in my car to go back to work. It is a beautiful dance we do. I went home for lunch on the 23rd, and he didn’t come. I closed the gate and let the dog out before heading back, as I do a few times a week.

When I returned home Wednesday evening after work, I fully expected to grab the package from the back porch. It wasn’t there. Tracking said it was delivered at 1:19 pm to the rear door. The gate was closed and the dog was out, but my UPS guy sometimes comes through the side gate and puts packages under the plant stand by the back door even so, which normally works out great. I started sweating a little, because if he said it was delivered, it was, and it was no where to be found. I walked to the front and back a few times to be sure and absolutely no sign of the car. I immediately started talking to God, and it wasn’t a “great is thy faithfulness” kind of conversation. It was a “why does everything have to be so hard” and “please don’t make me tell them it didn’t come” and “how am I going to replace this car” kind of conversation. I’m expecting the worst. I am expecting that my blessing is going to spoil right before my eyes, and I’m already taking the situation back from God, asking him to please, please fix it, all the while trying to fix it myself, and not knowing if it is even broken yet.

As soon as I laid down to sleep that night, the most horrible scenario hit me – the dog. Oh my goodness the dog was out. Violet is a sweet, beautiful, crazy, anxiety-ridden blue pit that absolutely obliterates anything she can get in her mouth. I have had packages left at the rear door many times prior, but they’d always been fairly big. She’d never bothered any before, but this package was smaller than a shoe box. I jumped out of bed, grabbed the flashlight, and walked the backyard in my pajamas and Uggs, trying desperately to find any sign of this poor car that I was now sure was being digested as I panicked. I covered every inch of the yard until it started pouring so heavily that I couldn’t keep my glasses clean. Off to bed I went, praying that it wasn’t so, praying that God would fix it, then taking it back from him and running scenarios in my head. I was sure there was no way this would end positively and there was some lesson to be learned. All I could see was my baby’s disappointed tears and another stamp of failure on my passport of parenthood. My stomach returned to my throat and I was back where I started. At some point in this loop, God said, “Trust equals peace, Chass. You can’t have the peace you’re asking for without fully trusting Me to take care of this. They go hand in hand.” Such a huge revelation brought on by a tiny derby car, but doesn’t it work that way most of the time?

Thursday morning found me in my favorite chair mulling over the word I received the night before. Abundant peace requires complete trust. The car was still in the back of my mind, but I was brought to the entrance of a few more more situations in my life in dire need of peace. In each situation, I realized I was holding the bulk of the issue on my shoulders, running scenarios in my mind, much like I’d been doing with the mysterious missing package the day before. I tend to tell God, “Alright, I’ll give You this part of the problem. I’m going to go ahead and hold on to this other part of it, and wait and see what you do with the part I gave you, before I give you the rest of it.” And God says, “No deal. All or nothing.” Then I shuffle the parts around and try the same conversation with God again, expecting Him to say something different. Lesson learned. It will take me beyond a lifetime to get my peace/trust ensemble exactly right, but I am so excited to start practicing. Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

At sunrise on Thursday morning, I’m dressed and ready to walk the yard again in the daylight. It takes two careful inspections of the yard before I see something sticking out of the ground in the very back near the fence line. My heart sinks a little as I discover a soggy, mauled cardboard box addressed to my son more than halfway buried in the wet dirt. I dig it up and sneak it into the house under my coat. Kannon is finishing his homework at the dining room table and I desperately do not want him to watch me open this thing. I somberly open the completely destroyed box, and find the most perfect, little, primed derby car you ever did see. Absolutely perfect. Okay. Here’s where the “great is thy faithfulness” conversation happens, and it happens big. It’s my favorite Thursday morning in all of my 37 years so far.

Derby Day came and went, and Kannon won first place in his den. He was on top of the world and the win was so timely for his little boy’s heart. He needed it badly. I’m not sure which one of us was more excited, but honestly, the journey was so much more rewarding than the end result. I think that was the point all along. We needed the reminder that we are loved, cared for and worth some effort. Jasmine and I never solved this particular problem when we were cruising the town at sixteen and seventeen, but rest assured this is the most important one we’ve thrown in on to date.

God is good ALL the time. We aren’t faithful and He knows it and is still good all the time. He gives us people who are capable and eager to pick up the shattered peces and glue them back together when we can’t do it ourselves. Sometimes He loves us best through the people he gifts us. Blessings abound, y’all. We just have to trust in our God, in ourselves and in our people. Once we get out of our own way, the rest is cake.

“But he answered and said, ‘Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up’.” – Matthew 15:13

Spear thistles are my favorite. They have beautiful purple-pink flowers that contrast starkly with the deep, healthy green of the stem and leaves.  Thistles provide a substantial amount of nectar for all kinds of pollinators, but are almost unanimously described as “short-lived” and “sometimes annuals, sometimes perennials.” Fickle, fleeting, pretty weeds. Thistles are  beautiful, until they are used up, run out of nectar and serve no purpose. Then they are discarded and exterminated. I have cultivated and operated in thistle mentality for almost every single second of my 37 years. I’ve gotten excellent at it. Parts of it have become hard-wired as parts of me. 

My purpose has always been to make others feel good about themselves. Take all the nectar. Enjoy the pretty flowers. Sure, please take it all. I don’t mind… When they feel good about themselves, I, in turn, feel good about myself. I have entertained entire friendships and romantic relationships simply because I didn’t want to make another human feel bad about themselves or experience any kind of pain at my hand… Unwrapping a microwave around the tree at some poor fool’s family Christmas and thanking his parents with a robotic smile because I didn’t want him to feel less of a person because he bored me to tears. Being a people pleaser has created more hurt than disappointing honesty ever could. And, just so we are absolutely clear, being a “people pleaser” is code for looking for love in all the wrong places. For real, Johnny Lee. I see you. Unfortunately, my life was a country song… that one… for a really long time. Lest we lose steam, let’s journey on…

“People pleasing” in all forms is a sneaky, subconscious way to soothe bleeding hearts and coddle deep wounds still infected by past pain. Historically speaking, it has unfailingly served as a comforting, addicting way to pat myself on the head and tell myself I am pretty and smart and all the things when no one else feels tasked with the burden. When my nectar is gone and my kind of pretty elicits boredom from whosoever’s attention I’m craving at the present time in life, I have habitually exhausted every avenue available to give, give, give of myself, making the bearer of my self-worth “happy” and, in turn, gotten a little hit off of that… just enough to hold me over until the next time. All of those unsightly relationship choices that made no sense to anyone and lasted way past their expiration date? Life choices that were made solely benefiting anyone and everyone but myself? All the times I took the harder road because it would make a particular situation better for someone else who barely knew my name? The thistle is pretty and provides all kinds of nectar, but isn’t so much about self-care or self-respect. We’re uprooting them all. They’re clearly weeds. 

Matthew 15:13 grabs me with both hands every single time I cruise by it, or, every single time it is thrown at the dead center of my forehead, as it has been consistently for a few months. There aren’t coincidences when scripture is involved. I don’t know many things for sure but I know that. Sometimes I unsuccessfully attempt to ignore and disregard scripture when it is quite literally shoved in front of my stubborn eye holes. There you go, Chassati… circle that mountain for forty years and see how that works for you… I preach to my children daily about good versus bad choices resulting in good versus bad consequences, and my grown self has chosen to make bad choices for years and decades. I’ve basically been asking – praying – begging – for huge sweeping change, and I haven’t honestly been open to it. The actions have not matched the intent. I confuse myself, so I’ve been praying about and mulling over (which is often the same thing) what changes must be made. Die to self. Eyes on God. What prevents change? What keeps us comfortably underperforming and clinging to mediocrity as if every shred of life in our mortal bodies depends on it?

Habits. Debilitating situations and relationships have corroded the hardwiring, creating habitual, short circuits that subconsciously deploy when presented with forward movement and progress. An opportunity for positive change and growth, you say? No, thank you, Creator of the Universe. I have habits in place to protect me from such change. I will contentedly and securely sit right here and marinate in my functioning, numb apathy. Blind, trusted muscle memory and constant fear of the unknown have kept me repeating the same patterns and muscling through the same lukewarm, septic habits for longer than I care to admit. False security and mediocrity are comfortable, debilitating diseases. I have quite literally been circling the mountain for almost as long the Israelites. This could have taken around 11 days… or even 11 years would be better than almost 40. “You have been traveling around this mountain country long enough. Turn northward.” (Deuteronomy 2:3 ESV) Okay, God. I hear you.

We obviously have to rip out most of the hardwiring, uproot the weeds, and start over. The hardwiring is the most labor-intensive to reroute and replace and the pretty weeds are the hardest to uproot. However, after gross amounts of neglect over the course of decades, the wiring is corroded and the weeds have become so dense that we can’t see anything else. The wiring has to be redone and the weeds have to go. Not the tiny, insignificant periphrial repairs I hoped God would point out and disspell with the wave of His capable hand, but the big, huge cornerstones of what 37 years of being me and living like me and thinking and feeling like me have birthed. God, show me what changes need to take place. Show me how I can best serve you. Ask and you shall receive – and I am receiving. ALL. THE. THINGS. 

Things I know for sure: Changes required of me right now in November of 2018 are complete and staggering. Mo Isom says it best. “Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Wow, okay. Seriously, folks. Put on your leathers and get ready to ride. Also, truths and expectations and callings can and will flow in and out of the socially-acceptable perimeters set by our family, friends, and traditional church. AND they can change. Coloring outside of the lines is encouraged. 

Our little family is in a season of change and progress and growth. All three of us individually and the collective “we.” In order to lean into this season and be maliable, we have to surrender to God’s path for our lives and forget all traces of our own whims and fantasies. My fantasies have been a huge source of comfort for me since I was a tiny child, and its a security blanket that has been surprisingly hard to let go. I never viewed them as damaging before, but they are. I’ve spent a lot of my life in hurtful situations and relationships where being present meant being raw, exposed, attacked and bleeding constantly. My goal was to not be present in the present, and my own mind was the most effective and safest escape.

I heard a sermon about a year ago (that I can’t properly site because I’ve slept since then) that directed listeners to include God in all fantasies and daydreams and consciously note how different they looked when He was present. The before and after was a gut punch for me. My consistent prayer for about a year has been to clearly hear God’s voice above all of the others and to find my purpose and pursue it relentlessly for His glory, however, He was not included not once anywhere in the secret places I escaped to in my own mind and heart. He wasn’t ever there with me in my hiding places. I further discovered, quite alarmingly, that I was excluding God on purpose, because His path is the “harder” road to travel and my mind and heart, in the midst of the aforementioned situations and relationships, screamed for relief and ease and reprieve a lot louder than God knocked on the door. The knocks always come in the still and quiet of seeking. I was not wholeheartedly seeking, and I was definitely not still and quiet. I was just surviving. Physically breathing in and out and bracing myself for the next blow, and coping by retreating into the secret places in my mind and heart devoid of God or anyone or anything else that could potentially comfort me me but most probably hurt me. Including God in my fantasies and daydreams takes a lot of conscious effort and rewiring on my part, but grace and hope are powerful forces. The Holy Spirit, who embodies hope, alters the perspective of change from scary and downright offensive to new, exciting, opportunity and growth. 

We’re on to something for sure, y’all. Habits must change. Fields must be gleaned. Chains must be broken. Purposes and paths will be discovered and rediscovered and rerouted. Stay tuned.



One Size Does Not Fit All

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.

‘Tis the Season

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.

And the Greatest of These is Love

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.

Confronting Fear – Past, Present, Future


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.

Several of my friends have messaged or texted me the following meme over the last few years at different times:

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.20160803_114614

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.8fdd9c3572990dedf9051c5246931e20

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.


(Photo compliments of Carolina Creek Christian Camp)

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.