The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

The Day(s) My Marriage Ended

I married my husband, Daniel, on a warm spring day in 2011. Actually, since we were married March 19th, it was still technically winter. But a Georgia winter, meaning it was 65 degrees and sunny.

It was a beautiful day. My father-in-law performed the ceremony, and that day still goes down as one of the most fun of my life. We danced to all the wedding cliches, had enough candy to feed a medium-sized village, and even broke out into a flash mob at one point. It was perfect.

And then real life began. Ours, like so many young couples’, began with a joy all newlyweds have: The joy of lying. Not big lies. Not like you forgot to tell them you’re wanted in five states. But little, easy lies, like, “This dinner is delicious!” or “I definitely like this painting.” I used to sneak out of bed in the morning and brush my teeth before Daniel woke up so he would think my morning breath was naturally minty-fresh. You’re welcome for that free tip, humanity. We wanted to make each other happy, so we were willing to overlook towels on the floor or accidentally-destroyed projects (I’m still really sorry, Daniel). We made the extra effort because it was worth it.

We had been married for a year-and-a-half when we found out we were expecting our first baby. We were thrilled! As you probably know, our firstborn arrived a bit less traditionally than the average bear.

And that’s when our marriage ended the first time.

Gone were the days where our biggest worries were over whether to order pizza or go out for dinner instead. I didn’t get enough sleep to even think about waking up early to brush my teeth and sneak back into bed. Towels on the floor became just one more nuisance on a never-ending list I kept tabs on in my head.

Joshua needed our constant attention. After four months in the NICU, he came home to therapies, specialists, oxygen tubes, apnea monitors, and more. As time went on, the needs changed, but the stress of having a special-needs child didn’t.

You want to know one of the truths about having a kid with special needs? It kills your marriage. Kills it. We were both still there, still married, but the marriage we had known was gone forever. In its place was something almost unrecognizable. And it was getting worse every day.

I’ve said before that having a child like Josh changed me. In so many ways, it changed me for the better. It made me more compassionate, and more understanding of the struggles of others, and opened my eyes to an entirely new world.

In some ways, though, the changes weren’t as great. These were the changes that were the hardest to resist. I was so angry at God for allowing Joshua to have so many issues. I was angry at myself for not realizing something was wrong sooner in my pregnancy. I was angry at everyone around me. And while throughout the day, I made an effort to at least smile at other people, by the time I got home from the hospital or new specialist or therapy session, I decided I had given all I could. I couldn’t possibly deal with one more thing. And I took it out on Daniel.

Every forgotten task, every misunderstood conversation, every dish I washed alone – I kept track of it all. I knew how many times I had done the laundry and how many times Daniel hadn’t. Sure, he was working all day, but I was busy with the baby. It wasn’t fair. That’s what I kept repeating to myself. It wasn’t fair. I was a stay-at-home mom, but not by choice. I had never asked for this. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it for a long time. But then it arrived and was so much harder than I expected. And I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge. And not being up to the challenge made me defensive. And being defensive made me resentful. And being resentful made me bitter. And all of that culminated in my marriage slowly dissolving into two bickering parents who didn’t know how to stop arguing.

No one is ever 100% innocent in these kinds of things. But I will be honest and tell you that a lot of this was on me. Daniel tried his best to help me, but I didn’t want his help. And then I got angry at him for not helping me. And then he tried to help me again, and obviously that meant he thought I wasn’t doing a good enough job, and then I was angry again. And then he didn’t help, and how dare he not help me? It was a vicious cycle.

We went on like this for a few years. We had our daughter, Jenna, just 15 months after Josh was born. Daniel worked full-time, and I worked part-time for a while, eventually moving to a full-time position where I worked from home. We had two kids under the age of two, hectic jobs, financial struggles, and so many appointments to go to. Life was busy. Too busy. Jenna was a fussy newborn. Josh didn’t walk until Jenna was almost a year old. There was no rest, no time for our marriage anymore. Even if we had wanted to work on it, there was simply no time.

Same people. Different marriage.

And then one day, Daniel and I had a big argument. (I’m not trying to air our dirty laundry or anything, and I asked Daniel if he was okay with me writing this. Just want to put full disclosure out there.) It was bad. I was so angry and so tired. Josh had started an intense feeding therapy program. Daniel was dealing with some (thankfully resolved!) health issues. It was stressful. And we argued, and then I shouted that I wanted a divorce.

It wasn’t true. I didn’t want a divorce. I was so tired, so angry and bitter, and I just decided to say it, to goad my husband into arguing with me. But he didn’t argue. Instead, we sat in silence for a while. I knew I should apologize. But I wouldn’t. I didn’t.

I thought that I was already so broken that nothing could touch me anymore. But I was wrong. The look on Daniel’s face when I said those words to him made me feel like I had shattered all over again, like the day Josh was born, and all the days after when we heard more bad news. And so I made a choice.

I decided to try to let the little things go.

It was hard at first, and is still a struggle for me, if I’m being perfectly honest. But my goal was to stop looking for ways to blame Daniel, and instead look at the ways he loved me and showed me his love every day. I decided to think about his intent – did he not take the garbage out just to make my day harder? Probably not. Probably he had just come home from a really hard day at work and it slipped his mind while he was helping me with the dishes or feeding the kids. Probably I could just remind him, or even do it myself. And then we wouldn’t have to fight. Things didn’t have to turn into an argument every time one of us made a little mistake.

My other goal was to get to back to reading my Bible every day. That isn’t meant to sound self-righteous; I just knew I needed to hear what God had to say instead of screaming my own words at Him. As we say in this house, it was no longer my turn.

So I started working on my goals. And I’ve messed up so many times. But it’s been getting easier and easier.

And that’s how my marriage ended the second time.

Same people. Different marriage.

Slowly but surely, the arguments grew to be less frequent. We sought ways to work together instead of ways to blame each other for the stresses in our life. Our other situations didn’t change. Josh still had a lot of needs and was a lot of work. We still had two very little kids and very little time for ourselves and our marriage. Those things wouldn’t change. But we could. We did.

When I first decided to write about this, I was hesitant. I didn’t want to paint Daniel in a bad light, because he is a wonderful, godly man, who married a slightly crazy, super short woman. I didn’t want people to judge us. I didn’t want to come across as having so many struggles.

But I don’t think we’re alone in these struggles. Even if you don’t have a kid with special needs, your marriage has likely hit a rough patch. If it hasn’t, please submit yourself for testing at the nearest health facility, because you might be a robot.

And if you do have a kid with special needs, and your marriage is struggling, and you’re not sure how you will possibly make it through one more day of therapy, and leg braces, and helmets, and practicing stairs, and giving choices, and being a constant cheerleader and advocate for your child so they never have to feel different – it’s going to be okay. Things might not change. But you can.

Same people. Three different marriages. And we would never change a day.

D and K

The Meaning of Easter

The Meaning of Easter

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As I scrolled through my newsfeed on Facebook this week (do you notice how many posts start with that sentence? I need an intervention), I saw lots of posts about what people are getting their kids for Easter.

That concept by itself sort of surprised me. I grew up celebrating Easter, but we stuck to egg hunts and chocolate bunnies and maybe a Backstreet Boys t-shirt (or was that Valentine’s Day?). We gathered as a family, enjoyed a meal together, and celebrated our risen Savior.

I’m not saying that to be arrogant – this is a testament to how my parents raised me, not the good choices I made. But as I see more and more posts about Easter baskets stuffed with presents and toys and more presents and more toys, I realize I do have a choice to make. Daniel and I have to decide what celebrating Easter means for our family.

I struggled with deciding how to go about this for a few days. I am what you would call a Stage Five Overthinker, and soon I was in a spiral of “NO PRESENTS AT ALL but but but other kids get presents and mine will be left out THEY MUST LEARN TO DO WITHOUT SUCH THINGS but but but a little stuffed bunny never hurt anybody NO ONLY JESUS-RELATED THINGS but but but what about an Easter basket with a cross on it??” and so on. You should see me try to decide what to order at a restaurant.

However, as I was walking through Target (all hail), huffy and alone in my principles, I saw a sign for Easter candy. The sign read “Make Easter a Little Sweeter.”

And it was there that I had a moment of clarity. I find that candy often brings me clarity.

There is no way to make Easter sweeter. It’s impossible. It’s impossible because the reason we celebrate Easter is that Jesus died for my sins and rose three days later and made it possible for us to spend eternity with God.

It just doesn’t get sweeter than that, y’all.

Easter is about remembering a time when God’s Son volunteered to come down to Earth, live among sin and sorrow, and then die a terrible death so that no one would ever have to die again. He chose to make my wrongdoings His wrongdoings and gave me the chance to walk with God every day. He did that because He loves us. He loves me, and you, and everyone.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not condemning presents on Easter. I am pro-egg hunts and may or may not be snacking on some Whopper Eggs while I type. My kids will dress up a little fancier for church tomorrow and we will have a fun day together.

But as we hunt for eggs and open our baskets and pass the rolls, let’s remember why we’re celebrating. Remember why you’re with your family this weekend. Remember why this is a holiday. Remember the real meaning of Easter, and teach it to your kids, and then break out the chocolate.

And then send me some, pls & thx.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Give It Up

Give It Up

A few months ago, I wrote about how I was tired of needing help from so many people. I was tired of relying on others to support my family, even though my husband and I were trying our best. I was tired of explaining our “situation” and feeling the need to justify our financial status to other people. Mostly I was just tired.

But as I shared these feelings with a friend recently, he said some wise words that made me think. I do not have permission to share them, but it was over Facebook and we all know that’s a gray area, so I’m sharing it anyway. I will keep him anonymous, unless you have something really good to bribe me with.

My friend said that, as Christians, none of our burdens are our own. Our financial difficulties do not just belong to ourselves. Our worries are not only ours to fret over. We are part of something larger, a body of believers that can share our troubles and each take a little piece, so that no one has to carry it all. My children are not just my children – they are part of a community of Christ-seeking individuals who have taken them in as their own.

What a relief. Just like that, a weight lifted off of me. Not just because of what my friend said, but because of the bigger truths it revealed to me.

There is no way for me to carry any of my burdens on my own. If I had a million dollars, if I ruled the world, if I had a magic lamp – none of it would work. Nothing would be able to take those burdens from me. They could certainly help, and they aren’t bad things. They just wouldn’t be the true answer.

So what is the true answer? What will take away our burdens, what will give us peace, what will guide us through a time of darkness where we dare not take another step?

Spoiler alert: It’s not a “what.” It’s a Who.

Jesus.

Jesus is who takes my burdens on Himself and carries them. Jesus is who gives me strength to lift my head when I am sure I cannot. Jesus is who died for my sins and your sins and gave us the ability to be part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than anything we can imagine. We can’t pay Him back; we can’t work off our debt. We just accept His grace and mercy, knowing we are undeserving, and grateful that He loves us anyway.

Jesus paid it all.

And so, knowing that there is no way I could ever really repay all my debts, no way I could really be the only one who provides for myself, no way I could ever truly be in a position to totally take care of my family…I am free.

I am free of the burden of my burdens. I am free of the guilt I feel over needing help from others. I am free from the worry over whether my kids will have enough. Jesus died for me and set me free.

I don’t know if we will ever be in a position to give to others financially the way people have given to us. And that’s okay, because now I think we are meant to give in another way. There are all kinds of burdens out there – some need financial support, some need a listening ear, some need advice from an expert. Not having much doesn’t mean I can’t give freely of what I do have. Prayer, compassion, understanding, grace – these are the most valuable gifts. I have all of those to give. And you do, too.

The holiday season is over, but for me, the giving season is just beginning. I want to make 2016 a year of giving my prayers, my time, my friendship to anyone in need. I want to make sure that I never forget the valuable lesson I have learned, and I want to share it with anyone who is struggling, in the hopes that maybe I can help ease their burdens. Mostly I want to make 2016 the year that I no longer regret the necessity to rely on someone besides myself for help – I want to celebrate that I have a Savior who invites me to rely on Him for everything.

Happy New Year, friends and family. May the next year be a generous one.

 

The Best Policy

The Best Policy

As I have mentioned probably 470328320 times, I am on Facebook a lot. A. Lot. I love Facebook. I sing love songs to it and whisper sweet nothings in its ear.

No, no, the last two aren’t true.

When you get down to it, Facebook is basically a way to announce to the world what you want them to know about you in that moment. It might be what you’re doing for the weekend, what your kids are crying about, or, inexplicably, pictures of your dinner. It allows you to post your thoughts and opinions on literally everything. That can get tedious but I think we can all agree that it is an effective form of communication, if not always the most personal.

Of course, this also means that you are going to see posts that you disagree with. Sometimes just a little, sometimes vehemently. That’s right. I said vehemently. And when that happens, you have two choices: make a comment or move on.

A few years ago, if I saw something I didn’t like. I always commented. Always. I have been told that I can be a little too quick to react without thinking to a lot of situations, (hard to believe, right?? RIGHT????) so my comments were not always the most polite. I would get involved in debates that lasted all day, sometimes not even totally sure why I was debating but confident in my right-ness about the situation. Is “right-ness” a word? Spell-check didn’t flag it. But it also didn’t flag “spell-check.” Hmm. Is my spell-check even on? What is it doing, watching TV? Get it together, spell-check.

So what was I saying? Oh, right – the right-ness. I would get angry and I would argue and argue until Daniel either took away my computer or one of my fingers went numb. Darn carpal tunnel. It wasn’t pretty.

After a while, I realized that I probably wasn’t helping anyone by shouting my thoughts as loud as I could. I certainly wasn’t showing people the love of Christ. So I decided to stop getting involved with arguments and debates on Facebook. It just wasn’t worth it.

And at first, that went really well. It was freeing to just scroll past controversial posts without feeling like I had to say something. I didn’t need to yell at people or tell them why they were wrong. I could just let them be.

But it didn’t take long for that to feel wrong, too. Not because I missed the angry debates or wanted to stir the pot, but because it seemed like the coward’s way out. I had gone from sharing everything to sharing nothing. No opinions, no disagreements, no nothin’. I was able to be everyone’s friend because no one knew what I really thought. It seemed like a wonderful idea, but it just didn’t feel right.

See, I got it wrong both times. I didn’t need to get angry and shout. I didn’t need to pretend like I had no opinions. I just needed to be honest.

We live in a time where people are afraid to be honest, I think. I know I am. I put too much stock in what others think of me. I care too much if my friends agree with the choices I make. It’s not something I recommend but I also think every person in the world experiences that in some form or fashion. The need to be accepted is deeply ingrained in each of us. And in order to gain and then keep that acceptance, we change ourselves. We see something we know is wrong and we keep scrolling. We see a friend hurting and we don’t reach out. We see a post that we know is harmless but we decide to lash out at the person anyway. All in the name of not rocking the boat or showing others how knowledgeable we are.

But – pardon the language, Mom – that’s crap. It is. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what my friends think of me. I don’t serve my friends. I don’t serve Facebook. I serve my Heavenly Father and no one else. That’s it.

God does not call us to be liked. He does not call us to be popular. He does not call us to have 3279 Facebook friends. He calls us to follow Him in everything that we do. And if we agree to do that, we also understand that there will be days where our opinion is unpopular. But whether God’s Word is popular has never been the reason to share it. We share it because it is God’s Word.

So I have decided that honesty is the best policy. I don’t need to shout. I don’t need to hide. I don’t have to be profound or funny or likable. I just need to tell the truth, God’s truth.

I’m not saying to get involved in every post you see on Facebook. I’m not saying to stop voicing your opinions. I just want us to think about why we are giving our opinions. Is it because you want to tell the truth, or because you want to win? Are you ignoring an issue because you know that your opinion is well-known, or because you don’t want to upset anyone? Ask yourself why you are saying what you are saying, and I think you’ll have a clear answer on what to do next.

Honesty can extend to our real lives, too. I know, I know; I am speaking of life outside of Facebook. Tell your friends. But being honest is important in all situations. There are some gray areas – for instance, you probably don’t need to tell your friend that her new hair cut is so bad you want to watch a Britney Spears music video just to get the image of her new bangs out of your head. But if your friend has broccoli in her teeth before church, help a sister out. And ask why she has broccoli for breakfast because that’s a little unusual.

More importantly, if a friend comes to you for counsel, be a friend. Be honest with them. Show them love and understanding, but above all, tell them the truth. Don’t do them the disservice of skirting around your opinions or berating them for their choices. If someone asks you what you think about an issue, tell them. You don’t have to put them down or be afraid to voice your thoughts. Just be honest. Just tell the truth. And if someone is honest with you, do them the courtesy of not taking it out on them. Know that your friends and family love you, and that sometimes telling you the truth is the best thing they have ever done for you, and the hardest thing they have ever done for you. Be honest with yourself when you are struggling over the next step to take. Be honest with yourself when you know that what you are doing isn’t right, and be honest with yourself when you have to make a hard choice that makes you unpopular.

I am a Christian. I know some people don’t like Christians. I know some people do. It doesn’t matter. It’s just the truth. I believe what the Bible says. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I believe that God is holy and that His Word is holy. And I know that we live in confusing times where we wrestle with ourselves over what to think about so many things. We know what God says, but we worry about what our friends think, what our family thinks. But we don’t need to. We don’t need to have an internal battle with ourselves. We don’t need to yell. We don’t need to be silent. We just need to tell the truth.

Be kind to one another. Show compassion for your fellow man. And remember that honesty is still the best policy. It can be hard and it can be lonely. But we can rest in the promise of God’s truth and know that in a world where everything is constantly changing, God’s truth never does.

Dear Preemie Mom

Dear Preemie Mom

Dear Preemie Mom:

I see you. I see you, scared and confused, as you have to leave your baby behind in the hospital because he was early and he needs a lot of help. I see you taking notes as the doctor explains all the machines and sounds that surround your tiny, sweet baby. I see you trying your hardest to take it all in – all the medical jargon, all the dates and times and schedules – but your eyes keep wandering back to your baby in her isolette as you wonder when you will be able to hold her.

I see you driving to the hospital day after day, determined not to miss a second with your little one. I see your shoulders slump as you prepare yourself for another long day of visiting your baby and then leaving him behind once again.

I see you as you get to take your baby home – a time filled with such joy and excitement, and also a little bit of fear. You wonder if you will be able to take care of her like the doctors could. You wonder if you will be enough.

I see you a couple months down the line, rejoicing over having your baby with you at all times but becoming frustrated that your baby needs so much attention all the time. Doctors, specialists, therapists – it seems like your life now revolves around when the next appointment is and how long it will take you to get there. You try to remind yourself that you should be grateful, because your baby has had to fight harder than most to even make it this far. But that doesn’t always help your frustration. Sometimes it even adds to it. Why did your baby have to fight so hard? Why did this happen to your family? You ask yourself these questions every day but no answer seems right.

I see you at the birthday party for the child of a friend, a child who was born around the same time your own child was due, before they came so early. I see your smile, which is genuine, but it isn’t the same smile it used to be. Because while you are happy for your friend and her child, it hurts to see how behind your own child is, and what a long way he has to go.

I see you crying late at night, wracked with guilt and worry and anger. If only you had been able to keep your baby inside a little longer…if only you had insisted the doctors take a second look at the scan… if only you hadn’t had so much caffeine or sugar or whatever else you think could have contributed to your baby’s prematurity. I see you blaming yourself, wondering what you can do to right this terrible wrong.

I see you decline invitations to playgrounds, to lunch, to so many places that first year. You’re so afraid of your little boy getting sick. The doctors told you that this first winter was crucial, that you should not go out unless you absolutely had to. So you sit alone with your baby, knowing that it will all be worth it in the spring.

I see you carefully pack your diaper bag – yours isn’t always like other people’s diaper bags. You need a lot of hand sanitizer, extra oxygen tanks, some masks that keep germs away. You venture into the grocery store like a soldier approaching a battlefield – assessing risk, wondering how quickly you can finish your task, praying that when you leave, everyone will still be healthy.

I see you stammer and flounder when someone asks you how old your baby is. You know if you give the real answer that there will be so many questions, and you are tired of questions. But to you, giving any other answer feels like a disservice to your child, like you aren’t acknowledging all of the hard work she put into coming into this world. So you split the difference – sometimes you tell people the real age, and sometimes you don’t. It changes every time you are asked.

I see you wondering if you are the kind of mother your baby really needs. You think that someone else would be much better suited for all of this. All of the therapy and special arrangements that have to be made – you think you aren’t cut out for this. You don’t know how you will make it through. You look back to the life you had before – maybe you used to work and now you have to stay home. Maybe you want to stay home but you have to work. Either way, it is not the life you planned for yourself. It is not how you imagined having a baby would be.

I don’t have answers for you. I wish I did. I want answers for me, too. But I want you to know that I see you. I see you, and you are not alone.

Sincerely,

A Preemie Mom