20 Years

It has been 20 years to the year since Charles left Charlotte, NC. It was the only place he had ever called home. He was 17 when he left, eager to pursue the things he believed the Lord had put in front of him and a little bit running from the demon’s that seemed to haunt him there. It’s a whole long story, that all accumulates up to this, he left and he never wanted to go back. Although Charlotte has held his family, his history, and his memories, he has never wanted to return. Even as we have spent more time there over holidays and just visits with the family, we would breathe a sigh of relief as we drove down the 85, excited to get back to Atlanta.

Then something happened.

It was magical. That kind of electric magic that makes you believe in unicorns and leprechauns at the end of rainbows kind of magic.

We took a walk one morning around his sisters’ neighborhood. Hand in hand we ambled and talked inhaling the cool foggy air, admiring the fall colors still holding on the tree branches that begged to be rid of them. As we strolled into the cul-de-sac and started to turn around, I looked up at Charles and said:

“You know if the Lord asked us to move here I wouldn’t be against it.”

Everything came to a standstill.

“What?” Charles responded

“I would be willing to move here,” I repeated myself

Seconds passed even the air didn’t seem to move.

“Me too,” he replied

“What?” I said stunned

That’s when I felt it. An electric current that started to pulse between our entwined hands.

“What are you saying?….. Wait……What are we saying?”

That was it. That was the moment we knew, we were moving to Charlotte.

We spent the rest of the day and the next processing. Talking with each other, talking with Isaac, talking with family and friends.

There were quite a few things we needed to fall into place to make this move happen and they have. The provision, job, housing…all of it. So here we are two weeks away from our move.

We have been letting go of stuff, packing things, organizing things, preparing for this next journey we never considered.

I think I have also been grieving. You see Atlanta was going to be my forever place. I had resolved once the Lord moved me here I was not going to leave. I was going to raise Isaac here and he would raise his kids here, or at least they would visit us here. It’s just what it was going to be. We knew when we left Atlanta years ago to move to California we would move back. We just always knew. I guess my knowing stopped there and I never considered anywhere else.

I am going to miss it. Atlanta that is. Or at least I am going to miss what I thought it was. Which if you want to read about that, I wrote all about it here https://ourhighwayfive.com/2016/02/25/home-2/ when we first moved and I was sure it was forever. I etched vows into my heart about this city. I created a construct in which the only world my life existed was one that involved Atlanta. Funny huh, to hear about me boxing my life into some neat tidy lines. Sounds so unlike me…..*read sarcasm.

That isn’t what life is always about though. We don’t always get these neat lines of construct that hold our whole world. I should understand that by now. Well maybe I do, and maybe that’s why when that magical electric moment hit….I said yes. Maybe that’s why my yes hasn’t come with kicking or screaming, it has simply come with a, I trust you, Lord. I trust who you made me. I trust our relationship. Maybe even though I still have these boxes, these constructs, I am better breaking them down. Better at letting them be revealed, better at looking at them, and better at throwing them out once broken down.

Not to say I haven’t had a million moments of WTF Jesus. I am moving to a place I never considered, to live a life I have no idea about. Everything is new. I have no vision for what it would or could look like. I have been insecure, without understanding, and overwhelmed. I also have been more excited and felt more alive in what has seemed like a while. Guess breaking down those boxes isn’t so bad after all.

I am excited to live near Charles family….to have Isaac grow up with cousins, aunts, uncles, and PawPaw. I am excited for him to hear the stories and see the places his dad grew up, for their childhoods to intersect. I am elated for Charles to be able to go back to the place he ran from and live. I am excited for the hope of a full circle.

We are moving to Charlotte and that is about all we know these days.

Grief Roulette

Today was the day 4 years ago that the doctors told us that Katie Grace was dying. I know this day is coming every year. I know what putting her to bed each night wondering if we were going to have her in the morning felt like. I know what it was like holing up in the house trying to soak in every minute of every day you had. I know what it’s like to just sit and hold your child trying to make the next 72 hours last a lifetime. I know what it was like to know she was done. I know when she breathed her last breath and what I felt when she died. What I don’t ever know is what I am going to feel each year when this time comes around. Death is simple, its grief that is more complex. It’s like a roulette wheel, you just don’t know where the ball of emotion is going to land.

In the first years of grieving, I think I wanted a timeline. A structure in which I could expect something. In true to me form, I wanted boxes in which I could check off the grief process. I wasn’t aware that I wanted that but I did. It wasn’t that way when I was logically looking at death. I knew Katie Grace was going to die at some point, I was intentional about my heart and emotions when it came to death but you see I was looking at just death. I didn’t consider that grief was a whole other beast. I did not give grief the respect that it quite possibly deserves.

Today as I write this I think I might finally begin to grasp the respect that it deserves.

You see this year I am not looking at myself to define the emotions of the next couple of days. I am not trying to box myself with expectations of what year four should look like. I am not analyzing the time passed and declaring I am here this year. Instead, I am looking at the roulette wheel of grief. I am watching the ball spin around and giving it the space it needs. I am not placing my hands on it or willing it or hoping. I am simply watching it. I guess you could say I am trusting grief. Not because I understand or have any form of control but because I respect it.

My mom and I call grief “a sneaky bitch”, it’s our inside joke whenever we are processing and need a good laugh in the middle of our tears. We joke about how it sneaks in at sometimes the most inopportune times, like when you are telling a story you have told a thousand different times but this time randomly leaves you in tears. Or when someone asks if I just have the one child and asks don’t I want more and I can’t laugh it off; instead the tears just fall. Or when Isaac comes home from school emotionally exhausted and it boils down to he misses his sister. Or how randomly you remember you should have an 8-year-old and you don’t and the overwhelming sadness makes you catch your breath. Grief, its sneaky like that. Also, it’s true. A kinder way of saying that, is grief is a mystery, a roulette wheel. It is as I am learning necessary, important, and valuable to respect. I most likely won’t ever understand it. I won’t be able to box it or capture it. I simply will be able to respect it and that matter-of-factly is enough.

I scrolled TimeHop today and the images I captured and words I penned fell before my eyes. I didn’t cry. I didn’t mourn. I missed. I loved. I appreciated. I don’t know if I will feel the same way tomorrow morning when I repeat the process. Or the next day. Or the next. I don’t know how or what I will feel on the 1st when we wake up in 2019 and will we know that this is the day we said goodbye 4 years ago. I don’t have any expectations or preferences. I am just simply standing in front of the roulette wheel at peace, respecting grief…..trusting it.

Where did November go?

You guys…..this month!  Its been the kind of month that seems like it should be over by now but it just isn’t. There are still four days left! The weeks have been so full.  Full of highs and lows. Have you guys ever done that at the dinner table? We used to do that with Isaac when he was younger, we would sit at the table and go around and each talk about our high’s and low’s of the day.  It was one of my favorite times as a family.   Maybe I will pick that up again at dinner. There is something unique about that question that opens up the conversation about your day.  All of that to say, we are going to do some high’s and low’s to catch up. 

High:  We bought a car.  A second car to be more specific. When we moved we decided we would go as a single car family and then buy a second one when we got to Georgia.  That was almost three years ago.  The first year and a half were not too bad. I actually enjoyed it a little bit.  Our life as a whole had slowed down so not having a car wasn’t as big of a deal.  Also, Charles worked close enough that if I ever wanted to take the car for the day I could. With the job change his office was farther away and taking the car for the day became a deal.   Getting a second car became more of a priority.  Wish I could tell you I was so fun to car shop with but I am not. I simply get too wrapped up in making the RIGHT choice, instead of just getting what works for us.  It’s a thing I have to consistently work through. WE MADE IT THOUGH.  We bought a car. I am so HAPPY. I forgot what life was like with the ease to grocery shop whenever, or take Isaac out during school breaks, or just go grab coffee at a shop and write.  It’s truly GLORIOUS! 

Low: This one is hard to write because it is tender still and will be for a while.  This was the month that we said goodbye to Charles mom, Gail. She had been battling cancer for years, beating it once, for it only to come back.  When it returned it came with a timeline, one I would like to note, she beat living longer then they expected. With that timeline in mind, we have purposely spent every holiday and as much time as we could in Charlotte with her.   Gail was a fierce lover of her family, there was nothing outside of the Lord that she loved more than Jack (her husband) and her children. Well, maybe the beach but only if Jack and her kids were there. And a good adventure, if Jack and her kids were there.  She was something else and we will greatly miss her.  

There is our high and low like I said it was quite the month.  We opted out of another drive to Charlotte for Thanksgiving, deciding instead to stay home and be. Just the three of us and we did.  It was about as low key as you can get.  I didn’t even cook a turkey but I loaded up on the snacks. Which as a side note I have recently discovered are what I live for, SNACKS. They are the best thing ever, I will pass on Thanksgiving spread every time if I could gorge myself on snacks.  So it was just us, snuggled up, eating snacks, binge-watching football, and Fringe.   I did do something brave though. Well at least brave for me. I wrote a post and submitted it for an online community to possibly publish. Somewhere in my rational brain, I understand its not that big of a deal, however, the confidence to write and submit something has been such a journey for me. It felt good to step outside of the box I put myself in and just do something that made my palms sweat a little. 

This week we are getting back into our groove. Charles is off to the trenches at work, Isaac is gutting out the harsh school life of a 4th grader (I am joking….he loves it) and I am home (or sometimes not because I have a CAR) trying to find my pace with writing again. I hope your November and Thanksgiving found you surrounded by those you are grateful for and who are grateful for you.  

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!

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