Father Of The Bride

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My first husband, Chuck, and I were married in May of 1989. We had a fairy tale wedding — no two people were more in love than we.

A year into our marriage we learned that we were expecting our first child. I was frightened, but from the moment he found out, Chuck was elated. Once I overcame my initial fears, we had a great time planning and dreaming, making lists of names, buying baby clothes, putting the crib together. Chuck wanted a girl and shared with me so many of the things he couldn’t wait to do if we were blessed with a daughter, but the greatest thing he looked forward to was lifting her up and swinging her around in the air.

He died on a stormy afternoon, the day after our baby’s due date. Our daughter, Melody, was born a week later. Devastated over the loss of my husband, my heartbreak deepened when I delivered our beautiful baby and discovered Chuck had been sent the daughter he had yearned for but would never get to meet.

My Melody is now 24 years old and in eight days she will be walking down the aisle to marry her soul mate. She and I have had talks about her daddy, we’ve discussed how to take traditional roles her dad would have filled at the wedding and how to change them to accommodate someone else without giving the impression that they are filling in or taking his place. I was honored when she asked me to help walk her down the aisle and to give the ‘Father-of-the-Bride’ speech.

I’ve lamented the unfairness of his absence during Melody’s life, but today I’m especially grieved that he won’t be physically present on her wedding day. I don’t need lectures on how nothing in life is fair — I’m well aware. It doesn’t change that outrageous feeling, though. Melody and I were robbed, it wasn’t fair, I have never gotten over it, and I know I never will.

But that’s okay. It’s okay to have moments where I say it’s not fair. God hears me and I believe He’s just quietly and lovingly acknowledging that no, it isn’t fair, but it will be alright.

As I take that slow, sweet walk with my daughter on her wedding day I believe Chuck will be there walking with us. I think he’s happy for his baby girl and is bursting with pride over the remarkable woman she has become.

I know I am.

Soldier Boy

It’s been a roller coaster of emotions this holiday season — from the general business of preparing for Christmas to the gamut of emotions we all experience this time of year. December marked the 5-year anniversary of our flight to freedom from my abusive ex-husband and Christmas Eve would have been the wedding anniversary with that ex-spouse. My kids have mixed feelings about all of this — appreciating their freedom and safety but wishing their father would have made better choices for the family. Bittersweet feelings about a wedding anniversary of the parents who don’t speak to each other any more. The heartbreak of having a father they can’t know or talk to because he’s residing in a prison 1,200 miles away. Not having their birth family intact for the holidays.

All the while they are experiencing the joy of the holidays and the appreciation they feel for their step-dad, whom they all love so much more than I think they ever believed they could — or wanted to. I see them during their extreme highs and their extreme lows. I can tell when they’re hurting, even though most times they don’t say anything. Sometimes we get through these times successfully and sometimes we fail miserably, but no matter what we keep walking together.

Amidst all of the holiday preparations and celebrations Vader asked if we would meet with an Army recruiter he’d been talking to at his high school. He’d taken some practice ASVABs and scored remarkably high and my son was excited to get all of the formalities out of the way in order to enlist. The meeting went well and we were able to set up formal ASVAB testing during Vader’s winter break from school. It turns out that he scored even higher on the real tests. My boy is so excited about enlisting. He’s to be sworn in next week. It’s moving so fast I haven’t had time to take a breath and process most of it, so I cry a lot — I’m so proud of him, yet the severing of the apron strings hurts.

Vader was groomed for service in the military by his father. Since my son was born, I was told that he was going to be a soldier. When we were free from his father I encouraged my son to do whatever he wanted and assured him that nobody expected him to become a soldier just because it was what his father expected of him. Now he’s come full circle and has chosen the military for himself.

Part of my tears are for what was lost for Vader. He can’t call his father and tell him what a huge success he has experienced with the ASVABs. It breaks my heart for my son, and it makes me angry at Rail yet again for the choices he made. He’s missing out on knowing these beautiful children and watching them grow into wonderful people. I don’t feel bad for him, but my heart breaks for my children who will always live with not just the repercussions of a broken home, but the void of the absentee father in prison. They couldn’t pick up the phone to share their good news even if they wanted to, and that makes a broken family all the more difficult to ‘fix’ — it’s another time where we just keep walking and try to figure it out as we go.

I am insanely proud of all of my kids. They’ve been through hell and back and they have all chosen to take those experiences and use them to overcome and thrive. My heart feels as if it might burst right now as I watch Vader transitioning from boy to man. I worry that he doesn’t realize how much I love him or that I’ll always be there to support him. Atticus reminds me that I don’t need to worry about that because if Vader doesn’t realize it now, it will come to him eventually.

Vader, I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m your biggest cheerleader. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you — I believe great things are coming!

 

Service

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Over the summer my oldest son, Artie, announced to the family that he planned to join the Navy. It was a shock to me because I knew my artistic son wanted to attend art school and eventually design automobiles. I cried and told him no matter what he chose to do I was behind him 100%. We had many discussions about military life, careers, why he chose the Navy.

My very first concern for Artie was how he could truly desire a life in the military because he’s such a mild-mannered, extremely warm, gentle young man. In high school he was encouraged to join the football team because he’s a big guy, but he had no desire to join, fearing he might hurt someone. So my mother’s heart wondered how a military career would suit my son, but I came to understand that with my boy’s gentle and loving heart came a deep desire to honor and serve his country. I see him as my first-born baby boy, but he’s a man wanting to do what comes naturally to men: protect.

Eventually I grew accustomed to the idea as Artie learned more and shared openly with us about his desire to pursue a career as a mechanic in the Navy. When it was time to get serious with the recruiter we discovered that Artie wasn’t currently eligible to enlist because he’d been diagnosed with asthma as a child. In order to join he had to see a specialist and have testing done to make sure he no longer has asthma. His lack of medical insurance has made it a hindrance to join for now, but he’s working to slim down a bit and become more physically fit, which is still a very positive step in the direction he’s chosen. I know he’ll get there when he’s meant to.

Yesterday Vader came to me after school wringing his hands and telling me he needed to talk to me. I knew it was serious and I immediately felt a sense of dread from the vibes Vader was throwing out. He began to tell me how he’s wanted to join the Marines since he was in ninth grade, but when he saw how difficult it was for me when Artie announced his plans for the Navy, he felt that he couldn’t tell me what he wanted to do with his life. I cried and had a small panic attack because I immediately envisioned my son on the front lines and I couldn’t even breathe. He asked for permission to stay after tutoring this week to talk in-depth with the recruiter at his high school. I asked him to give me some time to process that because I was due elsewhere for a meeting.

I sent texts to my brother, Tate, my daughter, Melody, and my Wonder Twin. My brother was behind Vader from word one, encouraging me that it would be very good for my son and would help him with his anger problems. Melody and I talked back and forth and she, too, suggested that this might be the best thing for him. My Wonder Twin has a son who serves and she was very positive, telling me not to panic, he had a long road to walk and lots of testing to pass.

After the meeting I went home and sat down with Vader. I told him that I wanted him to hear what I’d told all of my kids when they talked to me about major life decisions: find your passion, plan your future, then run towards that future with arms wide open and DON’T. LOOK. BACK. Then I talked to him about two of my concerns. All of his life Vader was groomed by his father for military life — mostly, I believe, because it’s what Rail wanted but wasn’t able to pursue due to a birth defect. I urged him to think carefully about this choice, and that he needs to enlist if it’s what he wants, not because it’s what he knows his father wanted for him. My second concern was that he was choosing military because he didn’t know what else he wanted to do with his life. He promised me he would think carefully about my concerns, but that becoming a Marine was his passion.

I’m worried about the choices Vader will make in the next few months. He’s the child who is fueled by anger and rage and makes decisions based on those feelings. I know there isn’t much I can do except be available to Vader if he wants advice. What it comes down to for me is trusting God to help my son navigate these monumental decisions. I choose to actively place my faith in God — to believe that He will always walk with Vader and provide for him, even if my boy never chooses to follow Him. I don’t say this lightly — I still feel off-balance, panicked, and fearful, but I do know that the more I pray and believe God’s got Vader’s life in His hands and wants the very best for him — even more so than his own mother — those feelings will subside and Vader’s future will sit well with me.

Thank you for joining me today for my very late entry in the A to Z September Challenge!

Quit

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The struggle with my son Vader has not lessened or ended. It changes as he searches for something he’ll never find: the quick fix. He’s looking for that one thing that will erase the past, make it right, remove the pain, return his dad to him. I’ve watched him jump from one thing to the next for almost 5 years. It’s a difficult and painful thing to watch your child experience, especially when the next quick fix is a failure.

Most of us know by now that there is no such thing — that healing takes time, work, and forgiveness, which can be an arduous task. In the meantime, he takes the pain, anger, and hatred out on his family. He is feared by so many of us because we’ve experienced his plunge into rage so deep and dark that it became disturbingly violent. So we choose to placate, tiptoe, and generally avoid his pissy moods as much as we can.

I set some new boundaries lately and called a family meeting to discuss them. I laid out some new rules for Vader about sleep patterns, reasonable bedtimes for a teen who has to be up at 5 am for school, and helping out around the house. My son, of course, had some choice words about all of it, and those included his hatred for God and his ‘decision’ to quit attending church with us. God was one of those things Vader thought would be a quick fix, but when that didn’t pan out he gave up and moved along.

One of the expectations I place on my children is that we all attend church together on Sunday. They aren’t required to speak to anyone, or participate in any other extra activities with the kids at the church unless they so choose. It’s family time, and I hope they will also discover by attending that they are loved and valued in God’s house — it’s a place they can always seek and find help.

So I shot down Vader’s decision about quitting church, which displeased him greatly.

My other kids were hurt and distressed over Vader’s disdain for God. They wanted to know why, but Vader has no answers he’s willing to share — mostly, I think, because he doesn’t really know why himself.

Later on, in our bedroom, Atticus and I were talking about what happened with Vader and the things he said. My husband gently suggested that I need to figure out the right time to quit. I’m not a quitter, and said as much. Then he explained that I need to find the place where I stop thinking I can do whatever Vader needs, or find whatever Vader is looking for, and quit so that God can take over.

It’s a monumental undertaking to attempt to stop helping enabling my child in order to let God take over and be there for him.

Some people believe that when we’re heading in a bad direction in life that it’s God who will take us as low down as we can possibly go in order to bring us around to what is right. I don’t. I believe He allows us to continue choosing what we want, digging ourselves a deeper and deeper hole, until we realize we have nothing and see Him standing right there with us, ready and willing to help us climb out of whatever pit we’ve sunk into so completely. It’s that place where we really meet God — and it’s a situation of our own making, not God’s.

No parent wants to see negative things affecting their children, but I suppose Atticus was saying that I have to let Vader wallow in whatever muck he’s choosing until he sees that God is the One who is always there — the only One who will never fail him. Right now I don’t know that I can step back and let Vader fall on his own — not because I don’t trust God to be there, but because I’m afraid that stepping away would fail my son.

I have so much to think about.

Perspectacles

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I’m hard on myself. I’m my own worst critic. When a mistake is made by me, no matter how small, my negativity is all over it in a heartbeat. When I can’t accomplish something, my pessimistic, doomsaying spirit reinforces what a failure I am. It’s a horrible way to speak to myself, a caustic and damaging way to see myself.  When I realize it’s happening sometimes I can talk myself away from the harsh perspective I have of myself.

I spent the week deep cleaning our house. Atticus and the boys did the heavy lifting, but I took on the scrubbing, sweeping, and mopping during the quiet mornings when the kids were at school and Atticus was still sleeping. I accomplished much in short amounts of time with no interference — no one needing something from me.

Then I paid the price for the physical exertion in the form of extreme pain, chasing it, of course,with a destructive criticism cocktail. How could I think I was going to be able to keep taking care of my family when just doing basic cleaning was debilitating? I might as well just quit. They’d be better off without me and my limitations dragging them down.

My greatest investment of late has been a wonderful pair of perspectacles. They help me see through my damaging perspective. Once I remembered to put on my perspectacles I was able to see how much more I am to my family than just the cook or cleaning lady.

Yesterday a nurse from Sprout’s school called and said he was ill. When I spoke to him he said he was too sick to remain and finish out the day, so we went to the school and picked him up. When we returned home I suggested that he lie on the couch, watch cartoons, drink some juice, just rest and be still. He didn’t seem sick to me, but I know sometimes we don’t look the way we feel. Sprout quickly got bored with resting and wanted to run around and play. All afternoon Atticus and the teens warned Sprout that he was supposed to be resting. By dinner it was obvious that he wasn’t really sick.

I spent the evening in bed, resting and reading, and trying to reduce my pain. Sprout came to me and started telling me about a boy in his class who is very mean. Apparently this boy was making some threats yesterday that scared Sprout enough to make him want to come home. If I wasn’t waiting at home, where would Sprout have felt safe? To whom could he have turned to feel protected?

Mommy is more than clean house and food. Mommy is safety, security, stability. Mommy is boundaries and accountability. Mommy is hugs and kisses and love. Mommy is an empathetic ear during hurtful times, cheerleader during triumphs, coach in learning experiences, sounding board during decision-making.

Mommy is valued.

Having difficulty seeing yourself with gentleness and grace?

Invest in a proper pair of perspectacles.

Perspectacles

Perspectacles

Thank you for joining me today for the A – Z September Blogging Challenge. Please take a moment to visit our other participants:

http://madeformusicforever.blogspot.com/

http://rsliwa.wordpress.com/

http://heidibethbaker.weebly.com/blog

http://squeezingthefruit.blogspot.com/

http://diaryofamotorhead.wordpress.com/

http://freckledfaerie.blogspot.com/

One

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There’s something we all need to understand about domestic violence. We can see that a relationship is abusive but we can’t just walk up to someone and say, “Hey, your spouse is abusing you.”

Victims usually don’t recognize the abuse because their abuser has manipulated them into believing that whatever consequences they are suffering through are rightfully their fault.

It’s a difficult thing to comprehend when you haven’t lived it, I know, but if you talk with a former victim, we’ll all tell you the same thing: we were faulted for perceived wrong-doings and we shouldered the blame. We believed if we could just reach the standard that our abuser set forth, everything would be okay…we just needed to be better and do better.

After my seven hearts and I were free from the person who abused us, I heard so often from people that they knew something wasn’t right, or that he was abusive, but they couldn’t do anything.

There was one person who understood that although she couldn’t physically intercede on our behalf, she could plant a seed for the time that I was able to see the truth. So she did — in the form of a personal account of helping someone she loved leave a violent partner. As Cecelia told me the harrowing tale I did not see any correlation between the woman in her story and myself. I just felt heartbroken for the victim.

Much time passed between that day and the afternoon I was hit by the sudden, full-on reality of what was happening to my children and me. It was my Melody who helped me to see the light of day.

In the terrifying days that followed our escape, I felt as if I could trust no one but my children, but as we settled into a domestic violence shelter, Cecelia’s story played through my mind over and over and over. I knew then that she had been planting a seed — letting me know that she knew and that if ever I needed her, she’d be there.

People have come and gone in the five years since we left. We’ve reunited with family, made new friends, lost people who just couldn’t understand domestic violence and all that it entails.

But Cecelia? She has been firmly by our side every step of the way. I am glad to know she’s a constant in the tide of ever-changing people ebbing and flowing through my life.

Do you know someone living in an abusive situation? Do you feel helpless knowing there’s nothing you can do?

Plant a seed.

Be the one.

Now and Then

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My Jem turned 6 today. What a huge moment for a little guy! He’s been counting the days because for the last week he’s been the same age as his little sister, Scout, and he really wanted to move on from there.

When one of my kids has a birthday I like to change my Facebook profile picture to one of their newborn pictures. I have only one ‘newbornish’ photo of Jem in my possession because when my children and I fled our abuser we left everything behind in exchange for our lives. My ex destroyed everything of sentimental value that we owned, including all of my photos. It hurt when we discovered so many of our treasures, all of them irreplaceable, were gone forever.

Now and then I get angry at my ex for all that he shattered, for all the pain and loss, for the incredibly difficult struggle we face as the survivors of his atrocities, to move on, heal, embrace life and live. I still feel hurt by how we were disregarded by him — how he didn’t see us for the beautiful, loving, fragile people that we are. I get angry, too, when I think of the sentimental items we left behind that he decimated just because he knew it would hurt us. It distresses me that my Melody no longer has the sweater I gave her that belonged to her deceased father.

My heart breaks when I think of our loyal dog, Boo, and what her final moments must have been like. I mourn her still, and so does Artie. It’s a loss I don’t think we’ll ever be able to completely bear because her last days aren’t known to us — in my panicked frenzy to save the lives of my children I failed to realize our abuser would be only too happy to deliver his wrath upon our faithful companion. I will always believe that I failed her.

This morning as I was lamenting the fact that I have not one single photo of Jem on the day of his birth, I found solace in my understanding that today that doesn’t have to hurt me. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have photographs.

I have something better.

I have Jem.

 

Sprout holding new baby brother Jem

Sprout holding new baby brother Jem

Happy birthday, son!

 

 

 

Thank you for joining me today for the A – Z September challenge! Please take a moment to read some of our other entries:

http://madeformusicforever.blogspot.com/

http://rsliwa.wordpress.com/

http://heidibethbaker.weebly.com/blog

http://squeezingthefruit.blogspot.com/

http://diaryofamotorhead.wordpress.com/

http://freckledfaerie.blogspot.com/