Lost but not forgotten

Big thanks to one of my students, who is a vivacious and wonderful person, Jessica Nicol, for sharing her story in today’s post.

You know the point in your life where you just don’t feel like being angry anymore? I’m there.
I’ve found that in life there is always that one person who you never forget or stop loving… that is your first love. Don’t tell me you don’t remember. It’s the best and the worst love you will ever have in your lifetime. So, with that being said, here’s my story about my first love.
Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography & Design

It all started in second grade. I was 7 years old and had just moved to Arkansas, so I didn’t know anyone at school. Halfway through my first week at Southside, I saw him. I was going to the only available swing left on the whole playground, and he was in the swing next to it. I had never felt the way I felt at that moment. My heart kind of… sped up. He was short with blonde hair and blue-green eyes. I wasn’t as shy as I am now, so when he got off the swing I went up to him and asked if I could play with him and his friend. He said yes, and so it began. Weeks after, we continued to play together, and the feelings grew. It was such an amazing feeling to care about someone so much. Of course, at the age of 7, I didn’t understand what I was feeling. Later in life, though, I realized I loved him.

The next year, in third grade, I finally found out his last name because his class, which was across the hall from mine, posted the students’ names outside the door, and I already knew his first name. When I found out, I made a note asking him if he would be my boyfriend with a check box saying yes or no. I gave it to him after school let out, and we went home on our buses. The next day after school we met outside of the building, and he gave my note back. It said yes! I was so happy. Did I mention he had a very thick southern accent? That was a lot of the attraction, right there. I’m so attracted to accents.
Once we moved into higher grades, such as middle school, it was all up and down. We were starting to become teenagers, and we didn’t have much of a serious relationship in elementary school. After all, how serious could a third grade relationship be? We were best friends and inseparable, despite my constant love for him. We ended up back together in eighth grade, and that was the year I realized I had been so in love with him for all of this time. I decided I wanted to marry him and that we’d be together forever… ha! Moving into ninth grade we broke up again. So devastating. I simply wanted to be with him, but he wanted someone else. We remained best friends because, again, our relationships hadn’t been super serious.
At the end of freshman year we got back together. It was a joyous moment for both of us. We  felt the same way about each other, and we both agreed we were going to get married and have kids and be happy. Well, that summer his father had a terrible accident. He fell off his truck–he was a truck driver–and hit his head. He lived for two days in a coma, and then he died. I felt so guilty because I was on vacation in Branson and couldn’t be there to love my boyfriend and comfort him. I cried so much and enjoyed nothing. All I wanted to do was go home and be with him. Finally my vacation was over, and I rushed to his house. He was so happy to see me. I stayed strong and tried not to cry when I saw him and his mother. I loved his mother, too, by the way. She was like a second mom.
During the visitation, I could not contain myself. I cried to the point that people thought I was related. I felt my boyfriend slipping away from me, and I just wasn’t ready to give him up. At the funeral, I kept composed. I hugged him and his mother afterward, reassuring them that I was there for them always. Days passed, and our relationship was in turmoil. He closed off and started rethinking everything. I fell into a depression and stopped eating because I was losing him. I had to get a therapist to help me because I ended up with an eating disorder, and I was majorly depressed.
We ended up breaking up. That was a devastation I cannot fully describe. If I could have died, I would have. I went through my therapy, and about halfway through it, we got back together. At the time, I had no idea how bad that was going to be. It was verbally abusive and painful to stay in, but I wouldn’t leave him because I was dead set on marrying him. My therapist said that it was an abusive relationship and wasn’t built on anything, but being a teenage girl, I didn’t listen. I closed off from the world because all I had in my life, I thought, was him. We spent another year together and then we broke up. It was a bad break up, but I continued therapy, and I just finished this past December.
Though it sounds like it was a horrible tragedy, I took away from it a knowledge I could never have gained without it. I learned the essentials of a relationship and the kind of strength within myself that I never thought I had. I rose up from it and am now very happy with my life. I plan to become a therapist for teenagers who are in the same position I was in. I also have a very amazing boyfriend who treats me like I deserve to be treated. I am no longer bitter and sad about this. I take it as an experience. I loved, I lost, I lived.

To my stepdaughter

*Big thanks to a friend of mine who gave me permission to post this letter he wrote to his stepdaughter recently. Thank God for  step parents who do engage and don’t choose apathy.*

Kylie,

This is long. You will find it annoying and will likely skip entire paragraphs the first time you read it.  I ask that you please do me one favor: keep it, and revisit it again sometime in the future.

The truth can often be awkward, uncomfortable and even painful.  Life in the absence of truth often seems easier.  A little white lie, a misleading statement, an exaggeration or invented story, an ignored phone call, or simply failing to reveal what should be revealed all serve to selfishly better our positions in whatever circumstances that each moment presents us.  We are all guilty, each and every one of us.

Most people speak of the importance of the truth with the idea that a lack of truth will compound upon itself and create burdens and ever-increasing problems that ultimately collapses under its own weight.  This thinking is, for the most part, true.  However, examples of a lack of truth personally benefiting an individual and having no long-term negative results are also plentiful (politics is rife with examples).  Children, like politicians and everyone else, do not live a life guided entirely by truth.  The reason, despite what people claim, is simply because it is an effective strategy.  Dishonesty sometimes works out just fine.  It seems logical that if no benefit were to ever come from dishonesty, then dishonesty would slowly disappear.  That is not what I see.  I see a world that puts the truth on a pedestal, as if it is truly special and to be cherished.  This implies that genuine truth is more rare than dishonesty.  The problem, as I see it, is this: to not speak the truth is to stop genuine conversation, to have such little respect for another that you deny them the fundamental right to know, be it a good or bad truth.  A lack of truth is usually no more than a display of loving oneself more than another.

Without question, words can hurt.  Words are often designed specifically to hurt.  The words I spoke to you the other night were an example of exactly the kind of language that is designed and used to hurt another person; for that, I am truly sorry.  I am sorry that they came out of my mouth aimed at the young girl I try so hard to make feel exceptional.  It is the hurtful wording that I regret.  As for the message behind that wording – the simple truth is – I do not genuinely feel sorry.

I asked your Mother that night, “Why the hell would the guy that spoils her say that to her?”  She didn’t have an answer, and neither did I.  I have thought a lot about that question I asked your Mother, and I want to take a moment to explain what I believe is the answer.

Despite my questionable choice of words, my timing, and my tone of voice, I spoke the truth at that moment.  That doesn’t mean that you are forever labeled in my head as that person.  It simply means that in describing your treatment of your Mother at that very moment, I spoke with honesty.  What I said has come up a couple of times since, which tells me that you have thought about it.  You likely disagree, but it affected you enough to dwell a bit on it.  You likely called me a few choice names to your friends.  You probably got angry, maybe sad; the point is that you reacted with emotion just as I reacted with emotion.  Reacting with emotion is the opposite of not reacting at all, or apathy.  At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, apathy is essentially the opposite of love, which oddly puts love and anger on the same team and apathy on the opposing.  A child with a parent who truly doesn’t care about her actions is one of the saddest things.  It is a sin against that child, and against humanity.  You may know of such a child.  A child with apathetic parents can hide among their peers as a child with relaxed, or easy parents.  But they often feel unloved and unwanted, and sadly, to varying degrees, they are.

Our simplest, most basic of all desires is safety.  True safety is felt in a loving, respectful home.  It may not make sense right now, but reasonable expectations, discipline and punishment are critical in establishing a sense of safety.  Behavioral boundaries are set, children (specifically ages 2 and 13) consistently test those boundaries, and good parents consistently reinforce them.  Failure to establish and consistently reinforce behavioral boundaries results in chaos.  Inconsistent, unpredictable parenting makes for ill-behaved children. A parent who simply doesn’t care causes exceedingly more damage.  It is said that overly harsh disciplinarian style parents create children who need therapy, but apathetic parents create adults who need therapy.

The truth is subjective, meaning that the same event described by two witnesses may differ, not due to dishonesty but to individual differences.  In your world, in your subjective opinion, is the disrespectful attitude shown to your family any different from the way any other 13 year-old treats theirs with?  The answer is… I don’t have any idea.  Nor did it occur to me to even consider how other children speak to their mothers.

I have felt bad after our conversation, but not for you or my son or myself. I feel bad for your brother.  He seemed to listen intently when we sat down and spoke.  He seemed concerned, not about being grounded, but about his mother.  I was shocked.  I expected the disrespectful disobedience that I have come to expect since meeting him.  He is older, not around much, and we never formed any sort of bond, but he cared.  I felt like he wanted me to be as upset with him as I was with you.  I really don’t know.  I have always thought I was doing everyone a favor by treating him as an adult.

I don’t know how this ends, or where things go from here.  Just know that it was anger and love that guided my words the other night, just as it was anger and love that guided my hand into your door.  People can question how that anger and love were displayed, but they cannot question their existence.  I’ll never lay an angry hand on any child, but where there is love and disappointment, there will be anger.  To not be angry at disrespect, to not be let down at finding an inappropriate video of you online, is fundamentally the same as not smiling at your dance moves, or feeling pride in your accomplishments.  Likewise, to provide for you and make no demands of your treatment of others is not only unjust to others but also to you.  There are only two ways that a stepparent cannot have the same expectations and make the same demands of their stepchild as they do their biological child…  apathy towards that child or ignorance of raising children in general (sadly, not uncommon).  This may sound harsh, but it is reality.

The truth is not in what’s said, but can be seen in the actions (or inactions) of many.  The idea that “She isn’t really mine, so how she ends up isn’t my problem” is sadly more common than not. You may even prefer that I feel that way.  If I could somehow care just enough about you to provide for you a good quality-of-life but refrain from caring enough to discipline you, you would have a great few years.  But the long-term consequences that your lack of discipline and lack of respect combined with receiving -without effort- the things you wish would be very damaging and very real.  You likely do not feel that way (neither does anyone else at 13), but I assure you, eventually you will.

In short, it is only my apathy, my ignorance, or your compliance to reasonable expectations that will ensure that the poorly worded sentence that came out of my mouth the other night will never come out again.  I care very much about you and about what and who you become.  Regardless of right or wrong, regardless of your own wishes, it is too late for apathy and ignorance.  I am not making an apathetic suggestion; I am making a demand, guided by love, that you change your current treatment of people in my home, or you will find yourself not welcome in it.

To demand any less from you is to not love you.

With much thought and love,

Your stepdad

Bad to the bone

My poor stepdad.

Celebrating my birthday, circa 1998

Celebrating my birthday, circa 1998

I know he loves my mom. Why else would you willingly marry a woman with FOUR little girls under the age of 12?

After our cat Ralph died, my poor stepdad was the lone male ranger in the ongoing and increasing estrogen fest. Even our dog, Watson, was a female (and yes, we named her Watson before we checked).

Until I was 13 years old, we had one bathroom. That’s right. One bathroom, five females, and poor Walter Allen. Needless to say, his potty time didn’t include thumbing through a stack of magazines. He had to get in and get out because all of us needed time for much more important things–crimping our hair, curling our hair, blow drying our hair, shaving our legs, applying makeup, and fussing over our troubled teenage skin in the mirror.

To add the mix, he has a daughter of his own, Sarah. Sarah lived with us periodically. So at times, poor Walt had FIVE teenage girls in the house. I have always loved the definition of insanity I heard in the rooms of recovery–doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But being the stepdad of four teenage girls AND the dad of another teenage girl, all living in the same house (at that point, thank God, we had two bathrooms), might be even closer to true insanity.

Bless his heart. For real.

Lucky for him, he had me :). I’m not what you’d call a girly girl. I do shave my armpits, have an unhealthy fear of moths, and have a few dresses. I’m not a total tomboy, but I was my stepdad’s best bet at an opportunity to enjoy more manly pastimes and pass on his love for said pastimes to one of his kids. While I didn’t enjoy camping due to the serious off-the-grid nature of my parents’ camping mentality–doesn’t work very well with five little girls, just so you know–I did enjoy fishing. I liked getting dirty. I wanted to play softball in the open lot with all the neighborhood boys instead of playing with dolls. I leaped out of a swing at its highest height and deliberately let my body free fall face first just to see what would happen (what happens, in case you’re wondering, is a face full of cuts, bruises, and gravel and mud in your mouth).

I also pooh-poohed the idea of puberty. I was disgusted at the idea of the birds and the bees, having a period, or any of the other sick stuff that goes along with being an Eve rather than an Adam. So disgusted, in fact, that I cried when I started my period. Not because I was hormonal–because I knew it was a life sentence of misery, complications, and yuckiness. And I was grounded for two months at the beginning of sixth grade due to my refusal to wear a bra. I did my best to avoid the reality of growing into a woman. Unfortunately, my best efforts failed me. It happened.

My stepdad, when he started dating my mom, was a real manly man. Grizzly Adams has nothing on the beard my stepdad sported. He wore wife beaters almost every day. He smelled like dirt and sweat. He liked steak. I remember once riding with him in his old beat up 70s model Chevy pick-up truck, half white and half rust. He cranked up the crackly radio, and “Bad To The Bone” came blaring out. This guy is super cool, I thought.

And even when I morphed into a hormonal, cranky teenage girl, my stepdad was willing to teach me how to throw a softball in the backyard when I decided to play ball after years of cheerleading, dancing, and gymnastics. He played “slap fight” with me, in spite of my mom’s protests. And for those of you who’ve wondered how I developed such an immature sense of humor and  13 year-old boy mentality regarding bodily functions, you have Walt to thank.

My parents showing off their moves, February 2013

My parents showing off their moves, February 2013

My relationship with my stepdad was not emotional or touchy feely or huggy or lovey dovey growing up. He always worked his tail off to pay our bills, but he wasn’t really ready to invest in us emotionally until I was in high school. I remember noticing a change in his behavior and attitude after he attended a Promise Keepers convention. It wasn’t an overnight change–just a slow evolution into a more caring, compassionate, spiritually minded, and patient father.

Today, we’re pretty close. He’s never going to be the mushiest guy on the block–thank God! But he coos over my daughter. And he tells me he is praying for me. And he works on his own spiritual and personal growth all the time. And–yes, this is true–he takes dancing lessons with my mom.

I love him for who he is. And I’m grateful for who he is. And I’m thankful that he survived the estrogen fest and now has a little more time to thumb through magazines in the bathroom.

Happy Father’s Day to the best and baddest guy on the block.

Day 3–The delicate dance

*I’ve known Jessica since college, and I feel privileged to have watched her evolve into who she is today. Our journeys aren’t identical, but I relate to much of her story. Check out her blog!*

Gratitude and love. Topics that seem to go hand in hand with lines blurred as to where one ends and another begins. Because, indeed, if you have ever been loved, well, the gratitude of being a recipient of such is a natural overflow.

When Bethany asked me write for this blog I immediately said yes. And then, moments later, regretted it. Don’t get me wrong. I have much to be grateful for. But currently, I’m in a season of life where grief overshadows most my gratefulness. And that’s the funny thing about love. It can often bring with it a two-edged sword bearing pain and piercing joy. How the two can exist in delicate harmony is something I’m learning day by day.

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Our kids with Paige, spring 2010

Paige was a 15 year old high school freshman when we met just 5 short years ago. Over the course of our children’s lives, she became more than just a teenager in our Sunday school class, she became family. In July, for reasons still unexplained, she died. The pain and grief that has been heaped upon my family by her death has nearly been crushing.

However, she is worth it.

The way she loved our family, the way she loved our children, the way she loved me has made every second of our grief worth it. And if I could go back in time five years and choose to love her all over again, I would.

This girl, this friend, who in my opinion left this world much too soon, left her mark on our family. My spunky, caring, eight year old daughter is forever changed because of the way Paige loved her. She wears funky hats, loves endlessly, serves others willingly and knows that it’s okay sometimes to act a little silly. All of those things because Paige did the same with her and now, she’s forever changed.

My sweet, tender, six year old son, who still cries weekly because he so desperately misses Paige, is forever changed. Just like Paige, he loves giraffes, making up silly songs, listening to music on his iPod and worshiping God no matter who is watching. He watched her love those things, and it has forever changed him.

My enthusiastic, laughter inducing six year old daughter dotes over babies, loves them fiercely, isn’t afraid to change a dirty diaper, act silly enough to illicit a laugh and is perfectly fine with carrying a younger sister around on her hip as long as she desires. All because she saw Paige do the same with her and with every child Paige came in contact with. Now my six year old daughter is forever changed.

I could keep going but the point is, Paige loved us well and we love her deeply. She changed us. All of us. Somehow, a 20 year old girl attached herself to our family and caused us to redefine why, how and who we love.

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

Paige with some of our kids, April 2012

We love not because she is blood. We love not because she has the title of family. We love not because it is easy or convenient or warm and fuzzy. In fact, the last six months, since her death, those last adjectives have been the hardest to swallow.

Yet, we are so very grateful. Grateful for her. Grateful that God allowed us five short, love filled years with her. Grateful that we have memory upon memory of her time with us. Memories of vacations and sleepovers and road trips. We are grateful that she loved us richly, and we loved her wholly.

The pain of losing her has pierced us deeply while the joy of who she remains to be in our family abounds. I’ve held my children as they cried tears and wailed sobs because they miss their friend so very much. I’ve watched them dance and laugh and sing songs that she taught them and see the joy in their smiles and the pain in their eyes.

It’s a funny thing, this kind of gratitude. It’s hard to describe how grief, joy, love, gratitude and sorrow can combine into one smooth wave of emotion that pours itself into every facet of your life. The dance around, these pairs of love and sorrow, gratitude and grief. And if I’ve learned anything from all of this, it is that one can exist and even thrive in face of the other. A year ago, I would have never thought that possible. Now, I’m so thankful for the way the two dance within my heart. Because if you take out even one of the two then you take Paige and her love from our lives, and that is something I’m so grateful that we will never have to do.

 

Jessica also blogs over at http://themakingofmom.blogspot.com.