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.
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.
(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.