I am responding to her facebook messages and crying through the key strokes. I weep openly for a friend who struggles in a marriage that faces the ultimate challenge of growth and in it, her weariness to continue to seek the truth in what will bring the solution of healing. My dearest friend whose marriage stands in the gap between all things being said but not heard.
I watch my daughter sitting, heavy as stone, in the rocker in my office and her tears are rivers rained down over a hopeless heart. I ache for her, and try to hide my mother’s grief for a child who cannot see what her mother sees. Will this be the time she actually leaves him? I must chose my words wisely, and as my eyes scan her sprained ankle and her swollen red eyes I nearly break.
Across the expanse of hundreds of miles a stranger reaches out in the night. “Do you have time for another friend?” She asks, after having known of me from an online group study on enlightenment. I always have the time, but as the night moves and her heart pours out, I want to cry and scream and grieve for the woman she is deep inside without the toxic fears and insecurities that are choking the life from her spirit. I want to hold a mirror up for her, and show her the beauty within that cannot be stolen in the performance of needing and wanting to be loved.
I cradle my best friend in my heart as I listen to her weary words over the telephone, the fight ensues after leaving an abusive marriage. Doubt, loneliness, fear and the overwhelming task of picking up all the broken pieces leaves her weary. I check on her every day, pray for her in all moments of silence, and yet I know; nothing I can say will be the fuel she needs to survive just one more day. She treads on heavy waters and I can only be a life jacket when she has the strength to reach.
And I sit here, in my office, into the late night hours against the precious hum of my ceiling fan and stare at a blank screen against the breaking hearts of so many in my spirit. Resonating questions from so many of my dearest one’s, “How did you survive your divorce to come fighting back and have the relationship you have now with him?”
I scan my bookshelf, heaving and swollen with self-help books, and wonder if the advice lay in wait among the worn pages of trying. I close my eyes and think about the counseling and hear the words of family through those painful years of separation. Where was the answer? When did I find it?
My heart takes me back to the day the divorce was final and the ride I got to a friend’s home where a mattress lay in wait for me in a cold, dark basement. My duffel bag was light but heavy in my hand, and I recall standing alone faced with what had just happened. I’d lost my marriage. I’d lost my children. I had given it all away and stood with nothing to my name but this black duffel bag. Fifteen years of marriage … and I’d blown it.
I remember the tornado, the day he left for Iraq, our having to move to a new town, and my choice to pretend that I was fine. I didn’t take my medication because I needed the manic high of my bipolar disorder to get me out of bed in the morning. I separated into two people. One that went completely insane and lived in a fantasy land of survival who chatted late into the hours with men online to feed my need for attention and the other who led Bible Studies in her kitchen. I’d needed help. I had asked for help – maybe not nearly enough. A suicide attempt, a hospital stay, and a husband called back from a war to give me divorce papers. I had lost everything.
I struck a deal with God that late night in the basement in 2009 as I laid on a flat mattress praying for death to come. I would give God six months of my life, and if I couldn’t come up and out of my destruction and misery; would He take me to Heaven? It was the only answer I had to get out of the hell I’d created for myself.
I hear the cries of my dearest friends and see the tragic pain in my daughter’s eyes, I hear my key strokes late into the night as I try to reach out to women who trust me enough to lean on me; I see their hell. I feel it up and around me, the fires that burn in a heart that just wants to be loved and needed, accepted and purposeful. I hear their weeping and their spirits mourn for the answer to that desperate question …. Can this relationship be saved, and how do I do it?
I watch myself in my mind’s eye, all those years ago, making that choice to do the one thing I’d never done before. Give up and let God. I see now … that was when I had the answer. That was the moment that changed it all.
Everything had always been about me. The way I felt, what I said, what I needed, and what I could be if I performed to the expectation of others and especially the validation I received in the performance. For fifteen years my marriage had solely been, ‘Show me I’m good enough, all the time.’
Me. Me. Me. Listen to me, dance my dance, and shower me with the art of everything being painted around me and my needs as the centerpiece for our relationship. If I am feeling something, you should feel it. If I want something, you should want it. It was over a decade of my living in a relationship that served one single truth: I hate myself but you should fill the gap with proving you love me despite all my failures, needs, and mistakes.
I remember those years when I forced that deep down and away from me. Parts of me went numb; that part that screamed pay attention to me! I stuck in my heels and got a job, bought a car, rented a little house, started a college degree and slowly in my outward love for others rather than my inner need for love in return …. began to get my family back. Every time and every moment that I wanted to scream out my own pain I replaced it with, “I love YOU.” I shut my mouth and started listening. I gave when I didn’t have anything to give. I set aside my own demons of unrest and insecurity and chose, every day, to operate in the one value I knew I had …. to give all that I could to those that I loved regardless of what I got in return.
I had six months to do it. Six months turned to eight and then a year.
And I realized slowly, the hell I’d been living in was my hell. The harder I worked on increasing my own value by the love I had to give … the less that hell I once knew had control over me. I began to see the rewards of letting go … and letting God. Countless moments through those years my prayers were, “Let them know how much I love them … it is my last gift to them.”
What I didn’t realize during those years was that not only was I letting go of my own desires to be good enough for the people I loved … I was letting God change my heart. In my journey to rising again from the ashes my focus wasn’t on what the world could do for me, but what I could do in it for others. In my letting go of self, I didn’t realize … I was discovering my value through Love.
I found a new rock to stand on, and over time it grew higher and stronger. The demons in the night began to quiet themselves because I had something new to hold onto. I had loved today. I had loved yesterday. I had engaged in something that had infinite and limitless possibilities to change the world. I did something for someone I loved. I said a word that held the power of hope. I sacrificed my time in giving to someone in need. I worked harder not because I wanted praise but because I wanted to bless someone. I took my medication because without it, the illness took over. Instead of being online in the night hours, I opened my Bible and found stories of women just like me who survived. The bricks began to build a new foundation and the old wall began to crumble.
I discovered … I was worthy of love.
God’s love. He loved me enough to protect me from the masterful hands of death and fill into me the ultimate desire to set aside my demons and seek to serve love instead of pain. In my giving up of giving up … He’d shown me life. As the new threads of that life began to take hold, I looked around one day years later back in my own home of fifteen years, with my children laughing nearby and my ex-husband reaching out for my hand without fear in his eyes … and I was thankful for the first time in my life. From the hands of death and destruction I had been delivered from being a victim of my own pain, and set up on a platform of infinite purpose and love. I had my family back. I knew who I was.
Without love, there is nothing … we are empty shells of victim’s to our pain and the toxic insecurities that haunt our relationships and our choices. When we seek to find the love within us, and have the courage to give it away to others – we heal our hearts and embrace our ultimate value.
I once thought that in order to fix my marriage I had to make the marriage right. In my performance I was trying to control what he said, what he thought, and the actions he took to serve my own needs and ideas on what it should look like. If you do this, I’ll do this. If you don’t stop doing that, I’ll keep doing this. The long list of items we would set on paper as goals to change our relationship, the countless late night hours he’d spend up listening to me cry about how unhappy I was … and the way it all fell on eventual deaf ears. I’d wait all day in my pain for him to come home so I could unleash on him how sad and hard my life was. Why don’t you … how come you … don’t you see … why aren’t you listening to me?
I look back at those years and mourn for him. I am grieved that I hurt him with my hurt. It wasn’t about him all along … it wasn’t about our relationship either. It was about me and my responsibility to know and believe that I had value and that if I was going to fight any good fight at all … I was going to finally be courageous enough to get to the roots of my pain and yank them up. It wasn’t his fault that I’d dealt with childhood abuse, rejection, and abandonment. It wasn’t his responsibility to heal me.
He says to me, as we talk about marriage and relationship advice, “You don’t want me giving advice to anyone.” I ask him why and he responds, “Because divorcing you was the best thing I ever did.” We laugh together, but in the joy of that reality we know its truth. It took me standing alone, on my own two feet, to finally have the guts to discover the real reasons I was so unhappy and couldn’t love or be loved. I had to heal. He couldn’t do that for me, although he had certainly tried like a true hero for far too many years.
I lean back in my black office chair and stare at the Facebook messages from friends, glance over at my last missed calls, and see that my recliner now sits empty. I watch, out the window as the sun comes up over the old broken fence that we haven’t replaced since the tornado, and I whisper into it all, ‘Thank you … for being the answer.’