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Brokenhearted

“That’s really the question you are going to ask here….at Zaxby’s?” Isaac said his opinion apparent in his tone.

“Uh yeah,” was my only response. I didn’t see anything wrong with the question I asked. Yet again I also didn’t realize what emotional door I was opening or the conversation it would lead to.

Before I get into that I have to tell you I have been pondering this question my friend T asked me almost two months ago. We were on our six-hour drive to Kentucky, we started talking about kids and babies. She just said, “I know what your boys want but you know I don’t ever hear much from you about what you want. Do you want another baby?” I guess I knew that I hadn’t really talked about my own thoughts about it, I just kind of went along with, “What, yeah of course I do”. Her question made my heart sit up inside and look around though. What I saw was this spot that I don’t really actually talk about. I have talked around it, discussed aspects of it, but I haven’t verbally revealed that spot. That’s curious for me, we all know I talk about everything. I analyze everything. I find the smallest emotional issues and I dig into it, pushing it around, feeling it, doing everything to understand and come to a place of resolve. This though. I have just left alone.

Now that I am aware though, I have been looking at that spot for two months. I have talked about not talking about it. I have poked it a little bit, pushed the outside of it to see how tough the skin is, but I haven’t dug in.

Well until that moment at Zaxby’s.

We were just sitting there, the three of us, as it usually is. This question just popped into my mind out of my mouth: “Would you guys be okay if it is just the three of us? Can you be content if this was just our family?”. I didn’t expect my voice to crack or my eyes to well up with tears but they did.

They both responded with a resounding yes. Then Isaac asked his, “Really, here.” question. Then Charles paused and said “Wow, wait, I think yes. It just hits me in this spot to think that we wouldn’t have anymore.” (Did I swoon? Or course. I love a man who can identify his feelings and communicate them). We finished up lunch, hopped in the car to finish our drive to see his family in North Carolina.

The next hour was filled with the emotional banter of two parents trying to figure out where their hearts are. Charles kept asking me “What do you want? Do want another baby?” I kept replying “This isn’t about whether I want another baby. Of course, I want another baby. I wanted 4 babies. I wanted to have more than one right now. I wanted to keep both of the ones I had. This isn’t about wanting another. This is about can I accept how life is playing out with regards to our children.”

You see if I ran the world. I would have 4 kids, living in a house somewhere in the country. They would play outside all day and we would have family dinners at night. I would be spending my day’s navigating emotional conversations between them giving space and guidance, to help shape them into the phenomenal beings I know they were made to be.

I don’t run the world though. I don’t have 4 kids and a house in the country. Nobody is playing outside all day to only come in for family dinner at night. I am not spending my days navigating conversation between amazing little people we have been entrusted with. I am a mom of a 10-year-old, trying to figure out how to not be too much most days, and too little the other days. As Charles and I processed, I realized I am a mom who is having to figure out if it is okay to bring another life into the world who doesn’t know the life who left early. If a baby joins us, they won’t know Katie Grace. They won’t have the opportunity to hold her hand or kiss her cheeks or be in her presence. They will come into our family and never know this precious soul who changed who we were. It aches my heart in a way I don’t have words for.

In all honesty, when I first started writing this post I had to stop. Grief showed up in a deeper way than I had expected. I thought I had grasped something during that conversation with Charles, and I did, it’s just that there was more. As the words of the story left my mind and heart, this space opened inside me, and I realized….it isn’t just about can I accept how my life is playing out in regards to children.

It’s about my heart being broken.

We see professional athletes run on injuries or people in stressful situations whose mind pushes the pain of broken limbs or sprained joints out of the way to get them to safety. Our hearts are no different. I was dedicated to living life with Katie Grace, committed to loving her with all that I had even when I knew it was going to hurt at the end. For her entire life, I wrestled with the consequences of loving her thoroughly. Always seeing death looming around, letting the expanse of the impending pain known. Relentlessly I battled back somehow discovering the grit to keep pace with my girl, making sure that when she crossed the finish line of her life, she wasn’t alone. Her race is over though, and rightfully so, my place beside her is also over. All the injuries I suppressed, all the pain I pushed to the side, they have slowly made their presence known. I just didn’t realize how broken my heart is. I think because I processed so much to be so strong beside her, I just figured I was okay, my leg wasn’t that broken.

It is though, I gave that girl all of me. I fought self-preservation to stay wholeheartedly present and madly in love with her unto death. I went against norms to embrace new normals to make space for who she was. I raged against sterile environments to make memories with her, knowing they were going deepen our connection, hurting more when she left this world. I did what parents do, I did the hard things so that she had the best of what this world offered her.

Katie Grace was still with us when I made the decision in my mind that I would have more. I actually blogged about it because it was one of those I won’t live in a sterile world because I know something painful is coming moments. I just decided the trauma of her life wouldn’t stop me from bringing new life. So we stopped preventing and just decided what will be will be. That is where we have stayed for the last five years. It has been easy to write off the lack of pregnancy as life was stressful, or busy, or my body just not being ready.

Now here I am, finally realizing how broken my heart is. It cringes at the thought of loving a new child, not because they are not wanted but because it knows fully the depth of “what if something” happened. It is awakened the vastness of pain that comes with saying goodbye to a child too early. I think also, having another, is truly letting go. Bringing new life into this world, growing our family, is a huge step of moving forward. Right now we are this unit, this tight family of 3 who knew her, loved her, held her, and in a way it keeps her with us. This tender broken heart might just need time to let pain breathe now that it has been brought to light. Maybe all these years it hasn’t been a deficiency in my body but I simply needed time and space for my broken heart to heal

Time is simply something you cannot rush. I know we like to, especially in our culture these days. Yet you can’t rush it. Time is what gives us the space for our memories, our hurts, our victories, our failures.

Right now, I am breathing. I am let the tears fall. I am looking at this broken heart and letting it breathe. I am giving it permission to fully grieve and although it hurts my fingers to type, I am giving myself permission to move on.

I am leaving this post with a song I listen to strategically. It’s a song Isaac and I played almost every day after Katie Grace died. I would pick him up from school and when we hit our neighborhood, I would open the sunroof on our blue van, let him stick his head out the window, and play this song as loud as I could. Take a minute, listen to the words, they will tell you why.

Man Child and the Double Digits

The look on his face when he saw me standing there in the kitchen; saltines in one hand, small butter knife with butter on it in the other, was the dead giveaway.

“What are you eating?” he asked

“Saltines and butter! Why are you judging?” I sourly retorted

“Why are you eating that?” his tone giving way to disgust

“What do you mean?” I replied appalled. “Why wouldn’t you eat that?”

“Mom, that’s gross,”

“Well, it doesn’t taste gross to my emotions, okay,” I replied still a little bitter.

He just stared.

“I think I am sad that you are turning 10 tomorrow,” my voice cracking with the tears. “I just wasn’t ready for the emotions of you getting older. So these are helping.”

Smiling he leans into me, wraps his arms around my waist, and just stays. We chat a bit more about my favorite age so far, his laugh, his sister, how he should stop growing, and how it’s really okay he is getting older.

Today I am 10 years into parenting this guy. I am 10 years into discovering who he is, and today it seems as if we have turned a corner. This corner of grown-up and I can’t even. My heart is playing the movies of his toddler days on quiet repeat, reminiscing sub-consciously of goldfish, Wild Kratts, afternoon naps, Cars movie marathons, chubby baby cheeks, sweet innocent laughter, babyhood and being his favorite. He hasn’t been a baby for a long time, he hasn’t been a toddler for a long time, and technically I have this year and next left in elementary school, yet today, saying goodbye to that single digit age carries a significance my heart is trying to grasp.

Maybe it’s because we only have him. There is no one else in our house who will be nine after him. He is it. Embracing his age as an only child is like celebrating your oldest and grieving your youngest getting older all at the same time, apparently. What do I know though? Last night I was just a mom eating saltines and butter in my kitchen ignoring my feelings about my son turning 10.

To Isaac- Happy Birthday buddy!

You’re taller then anybody in this house prefers. Your shoulders are getting broader foretelling of the manhood that is coming. Your heart carries a wisdom that life granted you early and I can see your age catching you up. I joke that your dad and I are either saving for college or therapy, we aren’t sure yet because how easily I peak into this season and see the places I believe I am failing. I can helicopter parent like best of them sometimes demanding more then you have to give. I can also lean to the opposite extreme where I leave you to your own devices. My drive always is to find that middle ground where I helicopter far enough away. You son though. You are a treasure. This beautiful soul that I get to wake up to every day and discover. Although not a fan of school, you love your friends there. You are kind and considerate. You still love a good joke, and we are constantly navigating the seas of appropriate and simply too far. I can see you pushing for more independence, stretching for our family to make room for a new older version of you. You still love family movie night, game night, and pizza every Friday. Although my heart is processing today all that this double-digit holds, I am excited to see what is to come for you. To see more of God’s master design in you. I have called you man-child for as long as I can remember and it dawned on me today that now sooner than later, that phrase won’t apply. You will no longer be a man-child, you will simply be a man. Until then though….

Happy Birthday, Man-Child!

Fear of Flying

The plane landed and I was stunned.

My heart rate was not elevated.
My palms were not sweaty.
I hadn’t taken a deep breathing session to calm my body.
Music wasn’t hammering into my ears to drown out the sound of the panic inside.
My normal hypervigilance was nowhere to be found.

I was 22 when a crushing fear of flying hit me. I use the word hit on purpose. It literally hit me. I had flown for years with no issues. It was innocently a flight, people do it every day like they make a career out of it and never die, kind of innocent. It just wasn’t a big deal. Then 22. I took a trip to the East Coast with my mom. I really went to spend time with her and get lost in the colors of fall. Not one other single place in America does Fall like the East Coast. The reds, yellows, greens, browns, even Crayola doesn’t make colors like that. It is a wonder to behold and a treasure. It wasn’t the flight out that got me, that was a breeze. That flight back though, it was when the hit came. I had a two-leg flight back to Southern California, first stop was PA for a short layover, no plane change. Somewhere in the air between where I took off and PA, the fist of anxiety deeply embedded itself into my skin with such a force it left me reeling. This knowing just spread over me from the pit of my stomach, and I knew this plane was going to crash and I was going to have no control. It was going to plummet out of the sky like an out of control roller coaster and death was going to be the end. I froze in my seat, unsure as to what to do with the feelings that were continuously slamming into me. When we landed in PA, all I knew was to get off the plane. I needed to just step outside and breathe, try to get my bearings. So I did. I got out and paced by the gate, trying to get myself under control. An agent catches my eye and informs me it is time to board. I just stare at her. She smiles and just stays with me. Finally, I say, “I don’t know that I can get back on that plane. I need to know that I am going to be okay.” She takes a minute, grabs my hands and says “Oh. You didn’t see, this is a new plane. This is one of the newest planes our company has. Also, the pilots are new. Fresh, alert and some of the best in the field. If there is any plane to be on with any pilots, it’s this one with these guys.”
She is the only reason I got back on the plane. I knew in my rational brain she was lying through her teeth, I also knew I wasn’t about to rent a car and drive to Southern California from PA, although before she said any of those things to me I was strongly considering it. So I got back on the plane.

That is where and how it all began. There has never been a rhyme or reason that I could find. People often tried to talk me out of being afraid of death, yet death never really scared me. It was more the feeling of dropping out of the sky. It was more not being able to take care of myself if something were to happen. If you think about it flying is incredibly vulnerable. You can’t run anywhere, you can’t grab the wheel of anything, you can’t move out of the way…you can’t…you can’t…you can’t. I refused to stop flying though. I wouldn’t let fear stop me from living. There is too much life to be had, adventure to be held, and people to see to stop traveling.

So I made myself fly anyway. Four months after that flight to the East Coast, my mom and I flew the 8 hours to Europe. I had small panic attacks for two months before that flight. My mind would play out the sensation my body would feel when the plane was no longer supported by the ground and the panic would hit causing my cheeks to go flush, my hands start to sweat, and my heart rate elevated. I would have to take deep breaths and allow myself a minute to recalibrate. Just thinking about it flying! I got on the plane anyway.

My senior year of college I flew out to see some friends in Atlanta. One month before I got on that flight, the same. I flew anyway.

I have white knuckled through almost every flight I have taken since that flight. I have grabbed onto the arms of strangers during turbulence. I have engrained myself in conversations in which I had no interest to simply distract from the panic on the inside. I have read my bible and listened to worship music in hopes to find my peace and calm in my faith. I have learned how to breath deep, lean my head back, close my eyes and embrace the panic. My body has learned how to take the hits that flying lays upon me.

I gave up hope long ago that flying would be anything other than what it had become. I just stopped caring whether or not I was going to be afraid and settled with I was afraid. It was okay to be afraid. My job wasn’t to make the fear go away, it was simply to embrace the fear/pain and manage it. It became my job to manage me when the fear hit, not manage whether or not the fear came. Fear wasn’t my enemy, how I reacted to the fear was my enemy. So I started to manage that and you know what happened. Over the years the symptoms have become less cruel. I learned how to embrace the window seat with the window up. I picked up a conversation between the Lord and me that starts once I get to the airport. It’s this quiet banter between him and me, that I am not even sure how we got it started but it carries me from beginning to end. I accepted that non-stop flights are my jam. I learned how to measure flights through movies and not minutes. I have loyally kept up the deep breaths, head back, eye closed, panic embracing poses in my seat. And when I fly with Isaac, I manage even more because of the concern that I would teach him to fear flying scares me more than flying itself.

That day 6 days ago was my second plane of the day because for the first time in almost 10 years I didn’t book a non-stop flight. I had two take-offs and two landings. I had two sets of pilots and two different airplanes. One was quiet and smooth and one was loud and turbulent. I had peace on both planes. I giggled when the pilot slowed down in the sky instead of sucking breath in between my teeth and then holding it until it I felt safe. I smiled when I heard the whine of the engine or when the air shifted the plane without warning.

It. Was. Surreal.

I don’t know what the winning ticket was though. I am still mid-process as to what changed. I have been boarding and de-boarding with the same anxiety for years. I have created a lifestyle of facing the pain and anxiety with flight, almost just resolved that this is my plight. What changed? I don’t know. I wonder though. I wonder if it wasn’t simple resolve. If it was that at some point of the journey I stopped getting into a power struggle with fear. That decision I made to no longer fight fear but instead become powerful in how I manage it, I wonder if that wasn’t a course changer for me. Although the change wasn’t immediate. The anxiety/ fear didn’t immediately go away, I was still depositing into my life the belief that I was in control of me no matter what happened. Every time I stepped foot on a plane and embraced my tools to manage what I knew was coming, I said “It’s okay fear. I got this. I am not afraid of you. I know how to handle myself when you appear. When you hit against my body, I know how to handle me. My fight isn’t with you.”

Not too long ago the Lord told me: “The heart of pain is the breeding ground of redemption.”

Pain has a purpose. We get to decide how we interact with that pain. We get to decide if we let it control us or not. Labor is the best analogy for this. A woman has no control over pain when she is in natural labor. The contractions are going to come on their terms, at their time, with their own force. She can’t control any of that. She can though control how she interacts with the contractions. She can manage whether or not she fears them, or embraces them. She can control how she breathes through them or how she doesn’t breathe through them. Her power lies in how she interacts with the pain that hits her body until that child is born. Matter of fact if she fights the pain of contractions they hurt more, they slow labor and in some cases can make more problems. Woman are instructed to lean into their contractions, to embrace them and let them do their job, that contraction is pushing the baby into where it needs to be to be born. Is that not the same with us in life?

We don’t have control over whether or not pain hits us. Or how it hits. Or how long it stays around hitting us. What we have control over is our ability to interact with that pain. What we have is the capacity to embrace the pain, figure out how we are going to breathe through it and let it do its job. We don’t stay in the pain, we don’t call out for pain, we don’t live a life of pain. That isn’t what this is. Pain will come. Fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, crummy life events, hurt, all of this stuff will at some point land on our doorstep. If we are living life, loving people, embracing this world, all of those things will eventually find their way to us. So the question isn’t how do I stop the pain. The question is who am I going to be when pain shows up. How am I going to embrace it when it hits?

For me with the fear of flying……I just got on the plane. I laid my fist of fighting the fear down, and put my hands on figuring out how to embrace it. How to manage me in it? I picked tools and used them every time my feet stepped onto a plane. I breathed into the fear, embraced it. I said yes when my insides screamed no. I parented myself into each flight and held my ground, held the belief that I know how to manage me when fear hits. I flew anyway, and 6 days ago my redemption came.
How are you breathing into pain today?

And Purge

Technically I shouldn’t be surprised that a purge was just around the corner. It appears to be the emotional cycle of life; grasping an understanding, life rocked, mindset changes, and then release. It sounds a lot like an evolution and maybe it is. The older I become the more settled I am in the understanding that life calls us to a current cycle of evolution.

Let me tell you about this purge though. We have a third bedroom in our apartment. I have it haphazardly put together for friends when they come to town. They all know not to expect anything fancy, I just promise them a good visit and sheets on the bed. They are good with it. The room was a catch-all from the moment we moved. I think everybody has those places where the items you don’t know what to do with go. Ringo the Flamingo, my long awaited for huge blow up float use to reside in there…cause what do you do with a float that big when you live in an apartment, you put him in the catch-all room. Paper towels, toilet paper, extra sheets, blankets, miscellaneous tools, a desk for Charles when he works from home. The room literally had everything.

Our friend Jen is moving in with us for a bit. She is between places to live so she is hanging with us until she figures where she wants to go next. We are all pretty stoked, she is a favorite of Isaac’s. “She’s just so fun. I can’t wait,” he tells me. All of that to say, I needed to clean and organize that room. No way was I going to have someone live in that. I mean visit for a few days no problem but live, uh no I have some standards. I did what anybody in my shoes would do, I phoned a friend. Specifically, I called Erin. Erin loves organizing and she has a pretty spectacular eye for it. I bribed her with wine and my amazing company not that she needed bribing, she was more than happy to come down and help. Here is also the thing about Erin organizing with her is often times just as much about the heart as it is about the physical stuff.

You see I knew I was going to need to get rid of some stuff, that is a natural part of organizing. What I wasn’t expecting was the abundant amount that to be let go of and how much of that was connected to an identity that I no longer connected to.

A part of controlling people is you have to break down their identity. You have to chip away at things that are important to them and replace that with something that gives you more power in their life. It’s best if it is something that connects them to you thus replacing their identity with a piece of yours making it harder for them to break away. If you do this well, the person who is being controlled won’t even notice what is happening to them. They will just think it is the natural evolution of the process they are in and embrace it wholly.

After three years of college in Orange County, I had quite the wardrobe and shoe collection. Fashion wasn’t always a strong suit of mine but it had become something I embraced in college and fell in love with, also shoes! Gah, I love shoes. If I could have a closet wall of shoes I would. Why is this important? That was a part of who I was, it was something I identified with and it brought me life. It was also one of the first parts of me that the Smith’s started to chip away at. The rhetoric of you are no longer a city girl began. You’re a part of our family and we are country people. Then John went out and bought me a whole wardrobe of western clothing, it was never outright stated that my “city” wardrobe had to go, but that quickly followed. Chipping away slowly at pieces of who I was and replacing it with who they were.

Jane is a creative person who had a good balance with her mathematical brain. Drawing, jewelry making, and sewing were all things that came easily to her. Those are not things that come easily to me. Writing, expressing myself through words comes more easily. Talking about feelings, thoughts, creative stories those things bring me life. That didn’t connect me to Jane, those were not her strengths. Without realizing it writing became replaced with scrapbooking and my newfound appreciation for fashion was replaced with sewing, things that connected to Jane. It’s really not as simple as I am writing it because controlling another person isn’t simple. It’s demanding and tiring and requires one to never rest because we aren’t created to control people. It’s not God’s master design. Although this chipping away of my identity, replacing it with “the families” wasn’t the only part, it was a central part that connected me to them which would make it harder for me to want to leave. Later it would make it harder for me to see the truth of the situation and disconnect because to leave them would mean to leave a part of me.

When Charles and I left the Smith’s I was allowed to take quite a bit of the stuff they had bought for me, most of which was scrapbooking supplies, sewing stuff, and a sewing machine. So if you are wondering at this point if I have been lugging that stuff around for the last almost 10 years, the answer is yes. You see, I wasn’t sure what to let go of and what to keep when we first left. So I just kept it all and gave it time figuring time would help me out. In light of my recent revelations, it did. It was time to let it go. I haven’t scrapbooked in years, I haven’t sewn in two years. When I have sewn it was blankets or something simple that I felt comfortable doing because this is what I realized, sewing doesn’t bring me life. I haven’t scrapbooked because it doesn’t make me come alive either. I thought it did because it had at one point or more realistically I believed that it did because it made me a part of something that I believed I was supposed to be a part of. In reality, those things were just a tool used to replace my ‘chipped away at’ identity so that I might be connected to someone else and not myself.

It was time to let it go.

I did.

I let it all go. I didn’t look at the items two or three times. I just piled it up, loaded it up and let it go.

I am okay that it took me almost 10 years to do this. I am secure in my decision to hold on until it was time to let go. I am good with that because my heart is connected to this purge in a way it couldn’t be years ago. I am not letting go and replacing with anything else. I am not letting go full of anger and disgust for the situation or any person. I am letting go because it’s not who I am and it is time for me to stop holding onto items that connect to that old identity.

I might pick up scrapbooking again and I am fairly confident I will sew another blanket or two in my days. They will be done from who I am, not from who I thought I had to be or who I morphed into. It will be laced with my tastes, preferences, touches, ideas, and heart. That’s the thing about purging, it gets rid of the old allowing for the new. I guess in my case it simply is making room for who I always have been. I just get to be it more authentically.

Socially Awkward

Do you guys ever have things come up in your life that you kind of shelve because you have no idea what to do with it? You can’t figure out where it comes from? Or how to resolve it? So you mentally place it on a shelf in your mind and hope that maybe one day it will come back around. By the time it comes back around you hope will have a resolution or even an understanding? I have had this thing that has happened since we have moved to Georgia, and I simply shelved it for the last 2 years. I have processed it with friends, talked about it with Charles, been irritated by it, and stumped by it. I had moments I thought I was through it but then no. I ceased trying to understand and let it be what it is.

I have been socially awkward in a way unrecognizable to me since we moved to Georgia. Finding a groove here with people including strangers has been difficult for me. It is the weirdest thing. I haven’t known strangers ever in my life. I have always been the person who made friends with people at grocery stores. My mom and Charles many a time had to pull me out of line so that the cashier and I would stop talking. I just love people. I love hearing their stories. I love seeing them smile. I love bringing joy and laughter. I love people. It’s not that I haven’t ever been awkward. Generally, as a baseline, someone who struggles with insecurity, I am awkward. Over the years I learned how to lean into that and make it work for me.

Here though, I just haven’t been able to settle into my skin. This awkward is new. I’ve had a ton of explanations that I have used over the last two years to try to explain it. Things like; It’s a whole new city, a whole new way of life. We’re still healing from Katie Grace, still healing from years ago. We haven’t found a church where we’re settled so we haven’t grown a community. We haven’t been emotionally available. God’s really called us home so we can be still and connect as a family of three. The list goes on, yet as true as some of that is, none of it ever explained why I felt uncomfortable in my skin with people. Or why going out alone promoted such awkwardness and was only for short periods because it would emotionally exhaust me.

That’s not me. Over my life, I did all kinds of things alone. By the time I graduated college, I had mastered the art of alone time. Coffee dates alone reading and people watching. Clothes shopping on my own. Even braved a movie on my own. On my own wasn’t an issue. It was gratifying. Needless to say, I have been left bewildered about this social awkwardness here in Georgia. I shelved it. I just stopped thinking about it, embraced it, did my best and hoped that one day it would come back around full circle. Hopefully, that circle leaving me with a solution or at least an understanding, as to what the hell.

Last Thursday, because it would be that day. Thursday’s and I are kind of a kindred. (You can read about that here…..Thursday)  It was kind of a self-care day. It was a day I was running around town doing things that took care of me. I had scheduled a brow appointment and splurged with a pedicure appointment also. As I walk into my appointment, my brow artist is running behind so I have about 20 minutes to kill. I stroll around the store just looking. The more I browse and wait, the more uncomfortable I become. Questions like….should I be standing there waiting? Do I just keep walking around? Uuummm….what is the right thing to do here? Do I keep looking over to see they are done? Is that awkward? All this started to popcorn in my brain, leaving me even more uncomfortable in my skin. She finally finishes her customer and calls me over. I sit down and we get through our time together. She is gracious and funny as ever, I am still as awkward as ever. Stuttering over my words, saying things that don’t make sense, laughing too loud at my own jokes. We finish up, I pay, I head to the door, and under my breath, I say, “What is wrong with me. Lord, why am I so dang awkward? I just want to go home.” I wasn’t expecting a response, it was just a rhetorical question. Yet there was a response….

“This is remnants of the Smith’s.”

I let my movement come to a standstill as I got in the car, giving that sentence the time it needed. The moments, the conversations, and the experiences that the Lord was bringing back flooded my mind. It wasn’t that I had forgotten them, I had just not ever looked at them through the lens of a victim.

The Smith’s systematically convinced me I was incompetent and couldn’t be trusted by them or myself. It didn’t start that way, when I first moved in with them I was completely capable. I would run errands on my own, I had a job, run to the grocery store on my own, freely speak to whomever I wanted and whenever I wanted. The change was quiet, happening without me even realizing what was being eroded. I would retell a story about a conversation and suddenly I was told that what I said wasn’t accurate and could cause the family to be viewed in a bad light. Shame would fold over me because that was my fault. The bad light was because of my words. Or I would be gone on errands for hours and it became labeled as independence. I was told that I was rejecting the closeness to family, hiding from intimacy with them. Shame would fold over me because that was wrong. As the confidence in my ability to relate to the outside world was being chipped away, I was given space inside the walls of the family where I was capable. I was capable to cook dinners, help with homeschooling, babysit the kids whenever, help with family business finances, clean the house, do laundry etc. I was trusted to hear the voice of the Lord, to spend hours in prayer for them but that became all I was good at. At being theirs. I silenced my own thoughts because they folded me in shame. I shut down being open to people outside of them because it was wrong, and wrong folded me in shame. I became a shell of a person.

This awkwardness, this uncomfortability I have lived with these last few years, is that. The belief that I am not capable or trustworthy. That I have nothing good to say. That I won’t represent anybody including myself well. That shame will fold over me. So say nothing. Be nothing. Have no opinion. Have no thought. Have no life experience. Have nothing that requires you to show up, to be present, because when you do that, you mess it up. You get it wrong. You say the wrong things. You do the wrong things. Although today I know that that isn’t true, what I saw that Thursday is that I am still walking that belief out. I am still acting as if I am that girl. I was so busy taking responsibility for my part that I never saw that girl or how she was still folded in shame…afraid.

I see her now and I want to give her a voice. I want to create space for us to grieve together. Then I want to move forward. I want to introduce her to the real me. The one who doesn’t know a stranger, who gushes over every dog who walks by her, who sits at coffee shops for hours comfortable in her skin because it fits, and the one who isn’t afraid of saying anything. I can’t change that I allowed myself to become a shell but I can reach into that shell, grab a hold of that girl in there, introduce myself and meld together, not necessarily erasing the experience simply erasing the fear.

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