Category Archives: 2017

Scarred but not ashamed…

Earlier today, I shared an image (below) on my Instagram and Facebook pages along with this message…

Scars are a reminder that wounds can heal ♡ Stay tuned… #scarred #Psalm118 #notashamed #byHiswoundswearehealed #itsbeenajourney

I’ve worn scars most of my life. At times, I’ve hidden them. Other times, I’ve been open and honest. I once carried a great deal of shame with my scars but I am not ashamed. They are a part of who I am and where I have been. They mark my journey, which hasn’t been easy.

Today, they aren’t gone…just different.

Not to cover them, but to give them more meaning, I spent some time today with a gentleman named Mike…

Mike is a butcher by day and I guess you could say another kind of butcher by night as a tattoo artist. He’s twenty-seven. He was raised in a religious home and currently lives with his parents to save money. We had the chance to talk a lot. He told me he’d stopped believing because he’d had too many questions and not enough answers. He shared stories with me and I shared with him. I didn’t push him or try to force my beliefs on him but he was graciously open to me sharing the significance in the choices I made for my tattoo as well as some backstory on my scars.

I want to share with you the significance in my tattoo as well…

First, it’s my right wrist…

“For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:13

The crown of thorns and the cross remind me…

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

The cross was also drawn from the cross on the necklace I wear daily.

The puzzle represents the small bit of life we see and knowing God sees the bigger picture. I may only get a puzzle piece here or there. I may often feel alone and invisible. But God knows.

The teardrop represents the moments when crying wasn’t safe, the years I spent unable to cry, the tears I’ve finally been able to share in the place I’ve felt safest, and this promise…

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. Revelation 21:4

The dove represents peace and hope, both of which I’ve desperately needed and He has graciously and freely given. In the doves mouth is a ribbon of teal and purple which speaks for suicide awareness. Teal is also the color for childhood sexual abuse awareness…both of which have impacted my entire life.

The dove also speaks for the innocent that can’t.

And Psalm 118 …

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say:

“His love endures forever.
Let those who fear the Lord say:

“His love endures forever.”
When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;

he brought me into a spacious place
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.

What can mere mortals do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.

I look in triumph on my enemies.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

All the nations surrounded me,

but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They surrounded me on every side,

but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
They swarmed around me like bees,

but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns;
in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
I was pushed back and about to fall,

but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my defense;

he has become my salvation.
Shouts of joy and victory

resound in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!
The Lord’s right hand is lifted high;

the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!”
I will not die but live,

and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open for me the gates of the righteous;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.

I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
you have become my salvation.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Psalm 118:17 was shared with me a couple times before I ever knew I’d need it. Then on February 21st, 2015, I realized just how much that verse would come to mean. It was the moment I found myself at the lowest, loneliest place I’d ever been, yet God met me there.

I will not die but live and proclaim what the Lord has done. Psalm 118:17

Life is beautiful and ugly. Moments still come when I question giving up but this verse reminds me He is in control and all things in His time.

Now, I wear it…proudly.

Each of these pieces were very carefully thought out and planned as far as the tattoo goes but I believe God was working through this just as much as I was. I was blessed to meet and spend the day with Mike and his co-workers, to be able to share with them a little of my life, and maybe even bring a little light into theirs.

Not only will this serve as a meaningful mark for my own reasons, but it’s also a reminder for me to pray for Mike and be thankful for sweet blessings.

 

Series: College Life | Firsts…

I’m in my last semester of college for my BA in English. I have five, yes five, English courses this semester…and a husband, three kids, and a dog. And four of those classes have long book lists so needless to say, I have little time for anything.

With all that said, I miss being here. I am trying to make time to blog but honestly, I’m exhausted. Physically and emotionally. Especially since my last blog which told of another huge loss I’m dealing with. It’s still hard. It’s going to be hard. It’s life. Anyway, a professor from one of my writing classes gave us a writing exercise in class a couple days ago and I wanted to share it all with you…

The exercise: Write about a first or firsts…

“It was ice cold and stark white in the delivery room. Even though I hadn’t started pushing yet, I was already exhausted. It’s indescribable how those sharp, stabbing pains in my stomach and back had stolen any umph I could muster up. It was all I could do just to breathe through them.

Speaking of breathing, I hate that word. I hate focusing on breathing. There was a time in my life when holding my breathe was normal. It was safe. Here was this doctor standing beside me telling me to breathe. Frankly, I wanted to rip his lungs out and say, ‘You try breathing!’

Not to mention my husband standing there with an empathetic look. All I could think was he’d gotten me into this mess — he better figure out a way to get me through it. I wanted to stab him every time the knots got tighter inside. I felt like my body was attacking me, which I’d felt many times before, only this time, it wasn’t my body. It was this strange creature growing inside my body causing this crazy whirlwind of physical and emotional feelings.

I screamed at the doctor, ‘Just get him out!’

I was twenty-two. I wondered what God was thinking letting me have a kid. Didn’t He know how screwed up I was? Why would He trust me with an innocent little kid. I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive, but God expected me to keep a baby alive?

‘Push…’ I hear the nurses say, ‘You can do it…breathe, just breathe.’ I swore if I heard one more person say breathe I was going to smother them all with the extra pillows they’d stuffed behind me.

And then…

I saw these tiny red toes and heard this wimpy, pitiful cry. It was the first time I’d given birth…the first time I’d really known what love was…the first time I had a reason to breathe.”

So there you have it. That’s my creative story of firsts. Though portions of the story may be somewhat exaggerated, when I write, I write from my heart. So yes, that little creature that turned my world upside down…he gave me purpose. He gave me a reason to fight. We’ve had our moments. I’ve had my really crappy mom moments and he’s had his drive me crazy moments. He’s seventeen now. He’s a senior in high school. He’s a volunteer firefighter. He’s training to be an EMT. He’s a good boy. I’m thankful, but still surprised God trusted me to raise this kid…and his two siblings.

Through all the hard in life, in marriage, in parenting, in loss, in grief, in darkness…through it all, I depend on beauty like this to help me breathe again.

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A Raging River…

>>>>> Yes, this post is incredibly long…what do you expect when it’s been so long since I posted. Don’t click away. Bear with me, read it until the end. Please. <<<<<

2017 Raging River

The past few days have been quite overwhelming. Change is inevitable yet so often, difficult to accept. Loss is painful, excruciating. This sums it up…

Life.

Let’s say you’re on a journey. We each have a different path. Some have flowers and butterflies early on and some have briars and thorns. Maybe some have briars and thorns the whole way. Let’s say the briars and thorns are the hurt, pain, and trauma that stings, cuts, and scrapes like the briars. Then you make it to a river. It’s fierce. It’s scary. You know to get to the path on the other side, free from the briars and thorns, you’ve got to cross the raging waters. And let’s say therapy is the stones laid out before you. You just have to take the step. You make it to the first one, catch your balance, plan out your next step and prepare to move forward. Some stones may be slippery. You may twist your ankle. It’s not an easy crossing but you press on. You step to the next stone, getting closer and closer to the other side.

The let’s say grief gets in the way. Grief over loss, losing the stones. It stops you in your tracks. There aren’t anymore stones laid out for you to step across. All you see is raging waters. You feel the sting of cold water splashing against your scraped and scratched up legs. You feel lost and alone. You wonder if there is hope…but as you glance back at the stones you’ve crossed, you’re reminded there is hope. You found it a few stones back.

Where do you go from there?

Your journey halts. You’re stuck on that stone for who knows how long while the water crashes around you. It’s overwhelming. It’s painful. It’s scary. You beg for more stones. You cry out for stones from the deepest part of your heart. But the stones are gone. How do you get across. How do you reach the other side without drowning?

You know it will happen…you just don’t know how. You know it won’t be with those stones and that is where grief has settled in. Maybe you’ll fall a few times. Maybe you’ll get soaked but you’ve made it far enough to know the river won’t take you.

Where is your path leading you? Are you headed through flowers and butterflies or are you tangled in the briars? Are you safe on a stone or treading water just to breathe? Or have you crossed the river and reached the other side, with soft green grass, the shade and protection of a giant weeping willow tree, a cool, gentle breeze, and a place to rest, where you can look back and see just how far you’ve come?

I wrote that sometime last night. Words usually come easy for me but the ability to accurately explain my feelings, well, not so much. This seemed clear enough to create a visual of what I’ve been feeling.

Why all this? I do want to offer an explanation. I owe that to myself.

Abandonment.
Abuse.
The insecurity of home.
The lack of support, love, and nurturing.
A childhood lost.
A girl growing in a world alone, a world that has mostly been cruel.

If your own mother and father don’t love you, why would anyone else?

That is a question I’ve asked over and over again. A parent’s role in a child’s life involves love, nurturing, protection, direction, guidance, support, and so much more. Those are things that can’t be replaced by another person. It’s an ugly fact.

I’ve bounced from house to house, never really feeling home.

Abuse.
Foster care.
Grandparents.
Homeless.

I’ve been in and out of therapy since around age 11. At 15, I wanted nothing to do with the therapist the courts ordered me to see. I was stone cold hard. My walls were so high, no one could touch me. It was great. And it was lonely.

At 19, after losing the one person I knew without a doubt loved me, my Papa, a part of me died with him. He was the only person that had given me a reason to live all those years. He was the one person who taught me what real love looked like, how to be kind and respectful, and how to love others unconditionally.

At that point, life became careless. I was a firefighter. Back then, female firefighters were rare. I loved that. I loved being the tough girl. I loved the idea that I could step into a burning house, with flames all around me and knowing they couldn’t touch me. I embraced the idea that I would gladly give my life in order to save someone else. In fact, I wanted to.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

And today, twenty years later, I can say there have been many times that I ached to find home. Not a home this world can offer, but an eternal home where there is no more pain and suffering.

Admittedly, I’ve attempted to take my own life. Several times. And yet, here I am. I look around and see raging waters. But I also see the path continues. I’ve learned that somehow, I’ll find a way.

So, where I am today is in the midst of grief. They say being able to feel is a part of healing. Well, I must have done a lot of healing in the past few years because I’m definitely feeling this. It’s heavy. It feels like I’m choking. It feels like there are rocks in my lungs. It feels like I’m covered by a blanket waiting to be smothered. It’s incredible pain. I’ve never known pain like this because I was never able to feel like this.

Over the past four years, I have been seeing a therapist. She’s the last of a long list of attempts to break through my walls…and she did. No one else had been able to do that. Not because they couldn’t but because I couldn’t let them. I couldn’t trust. I could talk about my past and all the wrongs but I couldn’t feel. No one could knock down the walls that kept me safe from the pain of the world around me.

Kara did. I don’t know how she did. She says I did the work.

Therapy is an odd thing. My opinion of it has changed frequently and probably will continue to change. In many ways, it’s amazing. You have the opportunity to share anything without judgment. Without anger. Without being punished. Now, don’t get me wrong…that doesn’t come easy. It takes a long time to learn that it’s a relationship where it’s safe enough to trust. A LONG TIME! (for me anyway)

But when you find that person, the one who can really see you, the one who lets you know it’s okay to breathe, the one that reminds you, you’re not alone, the one that bears ALL your secrets, the one that has loved you in spite of all you’ve been, done, and are…when you find that one, it means the world to you.

Kara isn’t perfect. She’s not some magical creature with a wand that wipes away all the wrong of the world. Nope, she’s pretty normal. She’s just a regular human being who struggles like the rest of us but we clicked. She taught me to trust. That was something I’d never been able to do.

She taught me…

to trust – that taking the chance can be worth it.
to believe – to believe I am strong, worthy, lovable, wanted.
to seek hope – that even in the darkest moments, hope is there.
to love – to love myself, to see my worth, to know myself.
to dream – to imagine where I would be when I made it to the other side.
to embrace – to seek truth and embrace it.
to grow – that I didn’t have to be afraid of who I would become.
to change – to bring truth in to erase all the lies I’d believed.
to feel – that it would hurt like hell but it would be so worth it.

And that’s where I am. I am feeling. I am grieving. When my Papa died, back in 1997, I cried off and on for three days and didn’t speak to anyone. I felt dead inside. That was about all I could feel. I wanted to die with him. I was numb. I was lost. I was alone. I wasn’t able to grieve because I had no idea how to really feel anything other than empty.

Grief sucks! Plain and simple – it absolutely hurts like hell. Losing someone who has meant the world to you, by death or by the end of a relationship is incredibly hard.

Two days ago, Kara told me she’s leaving her position in a private counseling setting and heading into the school system. It’s what is best for her and her family. It wasn’t an easy choice, but one she had to make, none the less. I care greatly for her and want the best for her and her family…I just wish I could be a part of her best.

I was/am devastated. DEVASTATED.

This woman, the one who knocked down my walls, helped me learn to breathe, taught me to find hope, and to press on, to fight death and find life…she’s leaving me. And all I can think of is I knew this would happen. Everyone leaves.

A father who never cared enough to even meet his daughter.
A mother who chose the man who sexually abused me for years, rather than her own daughter.
Teachers who cared but couldn’t realistically move on to the next grade with you, every year.
Lawyers, advocates, foster parents, friends, houses, family, etc.
A grandma, who much like myself, bounced between emotions, never really being able to express unconditional love, but rather love based solely on conditions, and fits of rage and anger.
A Papa who meant the world to a little girl who had no one else, who had the hands of strength, the heart full of love and compassion, a presence of the only thing safe in the world.

Whether by death or by walking away, the people that have mattered most, who have cared most, who were supposed to love, protect, encourage, support, etc. – they all leave.

And that’s where I’m at.
Kara is leaving.

I know it’s not the same. I know she truly cared. She’s dedicated four years of her own life and time to helping me. She’s put in countless hours of watching me stumble over words, back track on progress, question everything she’s said, argue or debate her truths vs. my truths, and lately, she’s watched me cry.

For years, pretty much all my life, crying wasn’t an option. Crying wasn’t safe. Crying made things worse. Crying meant something was wrong. Crying meant you weren’t strong enough.

But Kara taught me it was okay to cry.
She taught me I was safe with her and it was safe to cry with her.

She never took advantage of my vulnerability and what I viewed as a weakness. She viewed it as strength. Progress, she would say.

I can’t tell you the exact day when I first cried with Kara. I can tell you it wasn’t that long ago. It’s only been within maybe the last year that I really felt like I was stepping across the stones that created a path to somewhere better. And she was walking with me. Holding my hand. Offering hugs, when I was able to ask.

You may wonder, why is it a loss? It’s not like she died and is gone forever.

But it is a loss. That’s where the ugly part of therapy comes in…

Kara always said the therapist/client relationship is like no other. It’s complicated. There are ethics and boundaries she has to adhere to for my own good, but they are incredibly difficult to accept and understand. You’d think just the fact you’ve spent so much time with one another, that would be enough, but it’s not. Ethics, boundaries and the design of the therapeutic relationship don’t leave a door open for anything when the relationship ends. It most definitely is a loss. It’s a death.

And that’s what I am grieving.

I am grieving the loss of the person who knows me better than anyone else in this world.
The person who has taught me what safe love looks like, what love really means.
Who has given up much of her own life in order to save mine.
The person I pray for and want the best for, yet ache to be a part of her best.
Like with my Papa, I am grieving the person who showed me I mattered, that I was loved, that I was wanted.

I have an amazing husband. He’s caring, patient (very, very patient), gentle, and understanding. For the most part, I’ve shut him out of my therapy life and my healing journey, mostly because I’m stubborn, and partly as some lame attempt to protect him from my own heavy baggage. It was safest for me to view the time I had with Kara, in her office, as the one place, the one person I could actually let see the real me. I treasured that time. I cherished it. And I learned over time that I didn’t have to carry it all with me when I wasn’t there. She was safe enough that I could leave it all with her and actually live life in the in between. There’s so much comfort in that.

I have three beautiful, smart, amazing kids. I adore them. They are great kids just like my husband is great. They are my biggest fans, my biggest source of support, and they are honest enough to be brutal when I wear something wacky!

As much as I love them, it’s not the same. Theirs is a relationship where they depend on me. They receive unconditional love and support from me and in return, they love me back. They look to me for comfort, protection, guidance, and so on. They need me. They come to me for hugs or to fix everything.

That’s what I’m missing. That’s what I’ve lost. There is no one on this earth that can fill that role. There is no one who has known me forever, who calls me theirs, who has done and would do anything for me, who has wiped away tears, picked me up when I fell, held my hand through the hard times, and taught me what a mother’s love is supposed to look like. Kara did that for me.

And honestly, I am so truly blessed. My home…my family…I have found in my church. It took me years to get to that point to but I believe all that time, God was preparing me, teaching me, growing me. And He’s given, and He’s taken away. I’d like to put in a direct request that He stop taking away but it seems when He takes away, He helps me find many other things/people to keep me moving forward.

I have some amazing people in my life. There are women who have walked this journey with me, who have been my allies, my support, my stones along side Kara. They’ve prayed for me. They’ve kept me accountable (sheesh!). They’ve guided me and taught me. And painfully, when I look at them, I see what wonderful mother’s they are to their children, how they pray constantly for them, how they love them with such a deep, genuine love. And I see how they have that with their own mothers, how they have those people that have always known them, always cared, and always called them theirs. I realize there is no perfect family. I realize it’s a really messed up world and every family has its issues. Still, it’s hard to be loved by these amazing ladies and know I will still never matter that much…so much that I would be first in their lives, that I would be right in line with their other children, that they have watched grow from the tiniest fingers and toes, picked up from falls, held when they were sick, ached with every ounce of their body when their children were hurting. That’s what I grieve. Even Kara couldn’t offer that.

But here I am.

The river might be raging but I can still see the other side. I’m determined to someday sit beneath that giant weeping willow tree, feel the warm sun bearing down on my face, the gentleness of the soft green grass below me, and the freedom to breathe.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

But for a moment, let me grieve. This is healing, right?

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Mother’s Day blessings…

MyZoo

What is Mother’s Day?

It’s a day most of us celebrate the women who have poured love into our lives, nurtured us, cared for us, kissed our boo-boo’s, held us when we were sad or afraid, and so much more. It’s a love that’s irreplaceable and no one else can fill that role.

Not everyone has that love. Some never had it. Some had it in a warped way. Some have lost it. There are many things in our fallen world that separate us from the most special bond God intended us to have.

A mother isn’t just someone who physically gives birth to you. For me, while I have loved my mother, she was also not the mother I needed in some of the hardest times of my life. That abandonment still affects me greatly today at the age of 39. It’s a longing my heart aches for. It’s a loss I don’t want to accept.

I spent my very first Mother’s Day, back in 2001, alone. I asked my husband to take my son and go visit his family and leave me alone. I believed they were better off without me. I believed I deserved to be alone. Oh how wrong I was but the lies I’ve believed all my life tainted any truths I needed to believe.

That little boy will soon be 17. He amazes me more and more each day. Sure, we’ve had our issues and all I can say is I have messed up and apologized many times, as has he. And over the years, #2 and #3 have blessed our family. Most days, it’s a zoo but it’s my zoo. Most days, I’m tired, worn out, wishing I could find solitude in a tiny cabin in the woods where I can be alone with my thoughts, yet I know I would quickly feel lost in the quiet.

What I have learned is that being hurt by your mother doesn’t mean you will be a bad mother. I think in many ways, it’s helped me be a better mother. When our oldest son was five and I made a choice that too closely resembled choices my mother had made, I hated myself and feared I was becoming her. I knew my son deserved better than that, just as I had. I cried out to God with two requests:

“God, either you’ve got to take over or I’m not going to make it.”

I remember saying those words out loud and I can hear them just as clear today as I did on that September morning.

The roller coaster of life has continued as it does for most. There have been amazing times and there have been horribly, hit the bottom, completely empty times. Through it all, God has placed just the right people in my life at just the right times. For so long, I was angry at God for allowing things to happen in my life and for not having the mom and dad I saw so many others have. I wanted to feel that unconditional love, to have that complete trust in someone that no matter what happened, they would hold you, cry with you, and believe you.

I didn’t have that. I won’t have that. I have to accept that.

But this Mother’s Day, I’m going to celebrate in spite of the wounds I carry.

I’m going to celebrate the three amazing blessings that call me mom.

I’m going to celebrate that God has led me down a different path from my own mother’s choices.

I’m going to celebrate that even though I am completely broken, my children know they can always depend on me to believe them, hold them, cry with them, and love them.

I’m going to celebrate the many people God put in my life to keep me going and even though I wanted them to fill roles they couldn’t possibly fill, I can clearly see what special gifts each of them have been.

I fear naming them as I certainly do not want to leave anyone out but I can honestly say, so many people have greatly impacted my life and I am grateful for each of you. To those of you have been the closest to tending to me like what I imagine a mother or father would, I thank you. I probably put unrealistic expectations on you and for that, I’m sorry. But know that my heart is full because you poured into my life.

From earlier days in my life, thank you to my 6th grade friends who gathered with me in the small teachers lounge as I poured out my heart, wow…what a crazy position you all were in. I asked you to swear on the Bible not to tell and though you did swear it, you knew what I had said was something worthy of breaking that promise. You knew it needed adult intervention. And you made sure I got that. Thank you for being my friends, the first people I ever felt I could share my secrets with. And I so wish I could have said thank you to Mrs. Glenda who was the first adult I ever confided my secrets to. I learned she passed away a while back. She had such a gentle, loving spirit. I was drawn to her because she felt safe. She was my voice when I couldn’t speak. Even though things did not go well, I know she believed me. I am thankful for Mrs. Carson, my 8th grade English teacher who became a light in my life. I’m thankful we are able to still stay in touch. And I thank you for all you did for me and all you taught me. To Mr. Black, my high school art teacher, thank you for rocking the Duke sweatshirts and pulling for the “right” team! Thank you for fueling my love of drawing and art. Writing and drawing have been outlets that got me through life. I suppose you could say among many unhealthy was,  those have been my healthy ways of coping. Thank you for giving me something else to think about, to strive for, to love when my world was pretty dark. To my high school buddies, Erin and Christina…I kept you at a distance personally, just as I did everyone, but you were my friends and I’m thankful you were there. You helped create many good memories! My softball buddies, Kelly and Angie – fun times. Man, I lived for the dirt and I’m so glad we had so many good times together in a place I loved so much.

To my Guardian Ad Litem, Anne, who was there for me during some of the hardest times. Thank you for listening to me, for believing me, for treating me like I mattered, and for giving me a voice even though I was afraid to use it. I knew I was safe with you and that’s what mattered.

To my sweet grandparents, affectionately called Nana and Papa. I miss you. Thank you for taking me in when you were both facing your own nightmares. You had each been diagnosed with cancer but at the same time, you were there for me, supporting me, and taking me in as your own. You had always been there but you made your home mine too. You loved me as much as you could. I know it was hard. I was horribly broken. I was a depressed, hurt, abandoned, and lost teenage girl. I know it was hard on you. But you loved me anyway. Nana, you had your moments that really hurt. There were stings from you that I still feel today but at the same time, I remember those moments when you let me crawl up on your lap and cry. It was the only place I could cry. That meant more to me in that moment than anything. When I needed a place to cry, you gave me that. And Papa, I don’t think you ever did anything wrong in my eyes. I looked at you with nothing but admiration. You were the perfect gentleman. You taught me to love others, to help others, to care about others, and to forgive others. You taught me what real, safe, true love looked like. You smiled at me at all the right times. Your eyes filled with tears when you knew I was hurting. Your face showed disappointment when you knew I’d made bad choices. But you never stopped loving me. You never stopped letting me know I was loved. You are the reason I am married to the man I am. He is God’s precious gift to me and he came just as you left. God didn’t allow me to be without that one perfect man for me. First it was you and when you could no longer fill that role, it became Tony. He’s so much like you. The perfect gentleman, the one who would help anyone, who has forgiven endlessly, who has shown me every single day of our life together that I matter and he loves me. Thank you for being such a great example of what a real man is. And thank you for playing ball with me, for late nights, for giving me and Nana lots of giggles when your teeth fell down or your major comb-over had come to the dark side, lol. Thank you for giving me my blue eyes when no one else in the family had them…just you and me. And now, no one in my little family has them except my own daughter. What a special gift we share with you. Thank you for loving me.

Danny and Lee, thank you for loving me, for caring about me, for loving my grandparents and being a support to them as they faced their own trials and raising an abused, scared, angry teenager. What a world they were thrown into. Thank you for taking me in when I had no where else to go. You not only provided shelter for me and my sweet Tippie, but you provided a sense of family I’d never experienced. I got a glimpse of what a real family looks like. For a short time, I got to know what it felt like to have a sister and brother, a mom and dad. And though you couldn’t really fill those roles, you certainly did all you could to make me feel at home. The physical gift of providing me shelter was beyond wonderful but the emotional love you showed me was priceless.

Jimmy and Cindy, thank you for making me laugh. Oh what fun times we had…and some not so fun (like stacking the phase 10 cards just to see me get mad or flipping the hat off my head). Sure, those things made me angry on the outside. My short fuse often reacted. But on the inside, I knew you loved me and cared about me. I knew everything you did was out of love for me. You not only loved me but you gave me the outlet I so desperately needed. You gave me other things to focus on than my own nightmares. You gave me reasons to smile and laugh. You stayed up late endless nights with me playing Rook. Those moments were a treasure because I wasn’t alone. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have been alone in my own world of darkness, despair, and hopelessness. When I was with you all, you lifted my spirits and shined your light into my darkness.

To Becky and Bill, I guess if anyone could claim to be my parents, you both could. At times, you have loved me like your own and from day one, you claimed my kids as your own grandkids. I have loved that. What a special treat it has been for myself and my kids. My biggest regret is that we haven’t made much time for you all lately. Life has been busy and has taken us in different directions but you are never far from my heart. You’ve loved and supported me since I was 17. You were there when my grandpa died and again when my grandma died. You were there when I needed help with Noah and your love for him was priceless. You’ve continued that and I am so grateful for all you have done for us. Thank you for loving me and my family.

To my church family – there’s no way I can name each of you individually because I would certainly miss someone. Each of you have impacted my life in some way. I won’t say it’s always been easy or even good but that’s how families are. I know first-hand that families are dysfunctional. What you all, my chosen family, have taught me is that families work through those things, they overcome trials, they support one another, believe one another, and forgive one another. What amazing lessons I have learned from this sweet family God brought me into.

Thank you Skip and Jeff for being faithful leaders who have taught me more about myself than I ever imagined. You’ve taught me I’m not alone and you’ve accepted me in my darkest moments. You never turned me away. Instead, you poured hope and love into my life. You showed me that I was worthy of your time and God’s love. What greater gifts could I have asked for than for someone to reassure me that God has a plan for my life?

To my sweet friends who have come, gone, or stayed by my side, I thank you all. Even if our ways have parted, you were there at just the right time and blessed me beyond anything I ever deserved. In your own ways, each of you has allowed me to be a part of your life and your family. You have shown me the love of a sister or mother when I needed it most. I realize expecting that unconditional, irreplaceable love from you was never fair to you and probably only hurt me more. Even still, you showed me the closest love of a sister or mother than I could imagine. Leslie, Ashley, Jennifer, Ambra, Rachel, April, Karin, Keg, Julie, Trish, all my amazing Bible study sisters, thank you for walking through this life with me. I know I haven’t been the perfect friend – far from it and you loved me anyway. I know I carry with me some pretty heavy baggage. You’ve helped me carry it. My emotions and reactions can change instantly. You love me through it. You’ve accepted me. You’ve allowed me the freedom to be honest about things I maybe never felt safe enough to share. And you’ve prayed for me so many times. What an honor it has been to have each of you in my life. My heart will always hold you in a special place and I am a better person because of you.

To my amazing Armstrong family…wow. What a beautiful blessing it has been to be a part of such an amazing family. I often jokingly say  you are the most normal family I could ever imagine but really, it’s true. Sure, there are kinks but I have never seen such love for one another, encouragement, love, and support. And I get to be part of that! It sure has been nice to feel like I am part of a real family. I hate we don’t get to see each other as often as I’d like. You all have shown me what “family” really means.

There are so many more people I could name, who have touched my life in amazing ways, who have shown me that I matter, encouraged me, pushed me, and loved me. My SCS friends and family, the kids I’ve been blessed to work with through subbing, my photography friends and families who’ve trusted me with their most precious treasures and those who’ve allowed me into their lives during some of their own most difficult losses, to those in the fire department and rescue squad who became my family when I had none. I know they call it a brotherhood and I was the only girl around but you didn’t leave me out or single me out. You made me feel like I belonged.

And to my sweet “friend,” Kara. I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day. I know you and I have a different relationship and most days, that’s more than frustrating. And yet I know you want the best for me, even if that means things are different. You’ve provided me a safe place to bear my heart, to cry the tears that have flooded me inside. You’ve taught me more about myself than…well probably more than I ever wanted to know, lol. And you’ve helped me make sense of my own mess, my broken world. You’ve helped me patch the wounds, right the wrongs, replace lies with truth. You’ve taught me my own truth and you’ve taught me God’s truth. You’ve shown me a love so unconditional, I can’t even put into words how priceless it’s been. You’ve believed me. You’ve encouraged me. You’ve supported me. You’ve prayed for me. You’ve allowed me to be real with you. You’ve helped break down the walls I had built so high and strong. You’ve made difficult choices when you needed to knowing it would lead to hurt or a loss of trust, but you did so to keep me safe, to protect me, because you care. You have become such a huge part of who I am, of who I am becoming, of who I will someday be. Everything you have done for me is irreplaceable and even if there are times when I want assurance that you are who I want you to be, you are always who God made you. You have taught me to trust. To trust you, to trust others, to trust myself, and to trust God. I came to you having little to no trust and look at where I am now. I’ve still got a long way to go so don’t plan on going anywhere :)

So you can’t all be mother’s, in fact, none of you can be my mother. There’s only one woman on this earth that was given that name. What I ask of all of you is that you pray for her. My life is very different and I am stronger now. I have had to be a mother to my children. I have had to protect them, guide them, love them, and everything that I am supposed to do as a mother. Part of that was saying goodbye to my own mother. I know it hurt her. That was never my intention but it was what was necessary for me and my family. I have never, not one day hated my mother. I have loved her and wanted a mothers love more than anything. But what I’ve learned is that just as I am broken in my own ways, she was broken in hers. Part of that was in her ability to be the mother I needed. Please pray that she can find peace in her own life and know that she is loved from afar.

And because I’ve lived without a dad too, we’ll go ahead and count this as my Father’s Day note too. So here’s to all of you…Happy Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, friend day, sister day, brother day, family day, etc.

“To the world you may only be one person but to me, you’ve been the world.” – unknown