Part 1: Things I Can Hardly Believe

Last Thursday, one of the discussion questions posed at the ladies' night I attended through my church was "what, in your life, can you look at and hardly believe?

The easy answer, for me, is the fact that I'm a mother. The harder answer is the why. Why is it so hard to believe I'm a mother? The answer to this is longer and painful, but it's something I think is beautifully redemptive. 

What, in my life, can I look at and hardly believe? 

I'm three years old and I'm on an airplane. My grandmother sits beside me. It's night and we are flying from my house in California to her house "really far away" she tells me. I don't know if I told my mother goodbye. My dad has died. I have no idea what that means, only that I won't see him anymore and now I'm going with someone I don't know very well to live in a place called Indiana.

I can hardly believe this. 

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I'm thirteen years old and I'm dressed and ready for a school dance. I've been looking forward to this for a month, and I am so hopeful that a boy will ask me to dance. We are late. I crack open my bedroom door and hear flashes of a hushed and heated one-sided argument. My grandma hisses at my grandpa about not staying out late. He's laughing. He's in a jovial mood. He smells salty and sudsy, like Budweiser. He seems unsteady on his feet, and I know that he's been drinking. He's going to drive me to school intoxicated and he's going to pick me up even more intoxicated. I love this man, but I don't want to get into a car with him, but I have no other choice. 

I can hardly believe this. 

I'm fifteen years old and my boyfriend and I got into an argument so stupid I can't even remember what it's actually about. He's mad and shouting and there's spittle coming out of the corner of his mouth. I think he's going to break up with me right then and there in the crowded hallway at school. Instead he punches a locker right by my face. It's so loud that my ears ring and I wonder if he broke his hand. He grabs my wrist and twists hard. I remember playing a game like this in elementary school. An Indian burn. That's what that's called. It hurts, but I widen my eyes, willing the wetness to evaporate and to show him that I'm not scared. He shoves me hard against the locker -CRASH!- but no one stops to help me- and in that moment I get it. He's stronger than me and he's cut me off from my friends so no one is going to help me. This is a boy that I love and I'm going to stay with him because now he's all I have and I can't do any better. 

I can hardly believe this. 

I'm seventeen years old and I am asleep. But I'm woken up when hear my grandpa in his room, the next room over, call out to my grandma who sleeps down the hall in the living room. He can't move and he's having trouble breathing, but he has to go to the bathroom. She yells back, "Do you want me to get something you can pee in?" I am lightning and I bolt to the phone that's housed in the living room. He's having a stroke or a heart attack and I'm the one who calls for help while she's rummaging around in the kitchen for a bottle he can pee in.  "9-1-1, what's your emergency?"

I can hardly believe this.

I'm nineteen years old and my college boyfriend has sat me down on a bench in the moonlight on our two year anniversary. I suppress a smile, anxious to see what kind of modest ring he's saved for. Instead: "It's not you, it's me. In our small town, you were kind of my only option, but here... I have lots of choices." I followed him to this tiny Christian college. He seemed so much better than the boyfriend before that I'm sure I can't do any better. I cry and cry and have no tissues. I blow my nose into a leaf.

I can hardly believe this. 

I just turned 30 years old and I am newly pregnant. Three months prior, a doctor had told me and my husband that most likely I'd have trouble getting pregnant, but just a few weeks later, a miracle. But here I am, growing round with the child we had planned, dabbing my eyes with a peach tissue during marriage counseling. I am sinking uncomfortably into a couch too low and too soft, next to my husband, who I no longer trust. This is our triage. I pat my stomach, scared for the baby we purposefully created together, frightened that neither the baby nor I will survive this shipwreck.  

I can hardly believe this. 

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I'm 37 years old and I'm in tears on the floor in my closet. I feel lonely, overwhelmed, and unseen. I am on the verge of becoming untethered or unhinged, I'm not sure which. I'm trying to cry as quietly as I can so that I do not alarm my family. The girl who could easily round up 100 people on a moment's notice in Austin doesn't even have one friend to talk to in Atlanta. I scream into a pillow. 

I can hardly believe this. 

I am online, on Facebook, and I see that my cousin's fiance has OD'ed and died. She was pregnant. I see that my childhood best friend is in jail, again, for heroin, again, and her grandmother is raising her children and that her daughter is a replica of the girl I slept next to every elementary Saturday night and every summer at camp. I see that my 20th class reunion is coming up, and it takes me two hands to tally all the classmates we've lost to suicide and addiction. I look at my small town, the people I grew up with and two of my own cousins, battling addiction and heartache, and I know. I know that I am a whisper away from that being my story, too. These are my people, this is my family, we inherited this same history. 

Yet I write all this from a house that I cannot believe I own. When I was in the sixth grade, an art teacher asked our class to draw our dream homes. I hadn't ever considered a home other than my modest ranch on Marley Lane before. I flipped through her architecture magazines, grabbed a ruler and carefully drew a two story brick house... a house with shutters and a pitched roof and bushes with pink flowers flanking the front sidewalk. When we talked about our dream houses she asked, "What do you want in your dream home?" I shrugged and said, "I think it would have an upstairs and maybe a dishwasher." She asked me to dream bigger. "What else can you dream about your dream house?" I reached into what was unfathomable to me. "Maybe my house would be on a golf course." When I dreamed of paradise, it was a big backyard that I didn't have to mow, so nice that it was visited by rich people every day. 

Check, check, and check. 

I can hardly believe this. 

Deeper still. It's 8:30 pm, and I hear my husband Chris readying the children for bed. The kids are rowdy, and I hear his firm voice grow a hair louder as the reserves of his patience are being siphoned. When he calls me up, I'll lay on one of the girls' beds, at least one stuffed animal trapped under my body, and I'll read them all a chapter from their Bible. They'll take turns praying for each other, the world, and us, and then Chris and I will pray over them. The kids will ply me with giant hugs and loud kisses, and I'll taste the kind of childhood I couldn't even dream of. Did you know that no one read me a story at night? Or tucked me in? Or prayed with me? Not even once. Did you know that I always ran down the hall, never walked, because something in my childhood home made me feel unsafe? Did you know that I knew I was loved, but I thought it was something I wasn't worthy of and I wasn't sure how to earn more of it and I couldn't figure out what I had to do to keep it? 

Things are very different for me now. My kids know they are loved unconditionally. They believe they are safe. And my marriage is slowly, slowly, slowly but oh so steadily becoming a marriage defined by strength and unity instead of being made up of us pulling out the sharp glass shards of the pain we've caused each other. 

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Before this.... I couldn't imagine having children because I couldn't imagine a life as sweet as this, a life where I have been rescued from what should have been. I have been rescued too many times to count. And truthfully? It seems too good to be true. 

I can hardly believe this. 


Part 2: Things I Can Hardly Believe, coming next Monday