Everywhere we look we are inspired to love. From self-help books to the Bible to do gooder’s on social media who remind us that there is hope in mankind; when we look for it, we see the evidence of love. Love though … sometimes it’s not as easy as paying for the person behind you in the drive-thru or making smiley face chocolate chip pancakes for the kids. It’s hard. It’s selfless. It’s messy.
I had been married for 19 years when my husband divorced me. Oh, he had every reason and they were all good. I was a selfish, manipulative, strung out bi-polar with no intent on changing. I’d had several suicide attempts but yet refused to get help. My husband, despite how much he loved me, knew he had to let me go. I was either going to face reality or drop off the cliff, but he was no longer willing to go there with me or allow our children to witness the chaos of my ignorance.
Homeless, jobless, money-less, and without any family I ended up staying with an old friend, in her basement. It was late one night when rock bottom came crashing down around me and having lost everything I’d ever loved I got on my knees next to the mattress on the floor and I decided that I was going to end it. I was tired. Tired of the fight, tired of the failure, tired of never being good enough. I thought everyone would just be so much better off without me messing everything up all the time. Yes, I decided, I was doing the people I loved a favor.
Compelled by some reason to pray first, I bowed my head as the tears flowed and I prayed, “God, if you have any favor in me, please accept me into Heaven despite what I’m about to do. I’ve tried everything, everything, and nothing’s worked. I’m too tired now. I tried.”
As I prepared to stand to go get the pills, I was racked with shivers, as if electricity shot through my head down into my toes and it froze me in place. Then, in my mind, I heard the words loud and clear, “You haven’t tried everything yet.”
Now, I’m not going to say it was the voice of God, and I’m not even going to say I understood what was going on, but it was enough to quiet me. It was enough for me to pause, and wonder … what haven’t I tried?
“You haven’t done it MY way.” I hear. Love. Truly, authentically, unselfishly, perfectly love. I collapsed. In a whirlwind of thoughts swimming around me I could see how, for all my life, I’d been in survival mode. It was all about me and what I could get, what I needed to make it another day. Approval, validation, praise. In my insecurity, which started as a little girl who was abused for many years, I operated in performance mode. If I did this, you’d do that. If I say this, you’ll say that. If I act this like, you’ll act like this back. I saw how I’d pushed so many people away because I was so needy to be accepted. I was loving others, not because I truly wanted to bless them, but because I needed them to love me back.
“Okay,” I said into thin air. “Okay. It’s not about me, I get it. I’ll do it your way. I’ll love without expectation. My motivation will be only to show my family how much I truly do love them, so that they know. Once they know … I’m taking myself out. You get 2 months God.”
I still didn’t get it obviously. But, it was a start.
I did everything I could possibly do to begin building my life again. Once I decided to live, even temporarily, and once I decided to love, without expectation, things slowly began taking form. I did everything I could to re-build from tossing newspapers at 4 am to working in a call center collecting debts, and finally a retail sales job with education benefits. My husband allowed me to see the kids every weekend, and while I felt so incredibly guilty for not being able to take them anywhere because I was so broke, we spent our weekends playing dance off party, at the park, or simply sitting around talking. I was re-bonding with my babies. I started college. I rented a little house. All in month one.
Then, the bigger step. Getting help. Therapy and medication started. I knew going into it that it was only for another month, but I’d promised myself I’d try everything I’d never tried before, so I went for it. Another week came and went, and my ex-husband, sitting in the garage on his new motorcycle, said as I came to pick up the kids, “You look different.”
“I do?” God he looked good on that bike.
He nodded, “Yeah. It’s a good look.”
“Well, that bike looks pretty good on you too,” I say. We laugh. For the first time.
He calls on me to help when help is needed and I am there. I begin to make enough money to treat the kids and give them their own bedroom in my house. I work 40 hours a week and do several online classes and two on campus classes and every ounce of my time outside is spent with the kids.
I’m 7 weeks in and my youngest daughter says to me, “I like the way you are now Mama.”
I wonder. Maybe I’ll extend another month. Heaven can wait a few more days.
As my motivation to love shifted from getting my own needs met to meeting the needs of others, my life started to become easier. I wasn’t thinking about who cared about me, who was paying attention to what I was doing, or if I was good enough. I was just, well, living. The joy in my heart grew every time I gave. My confidence sky rocketed.
I slowly began to see that I had something of value to offer, and that it was good. It didn’t need a billboard of praise or a gift of thanks, it was the first petal on a Spring flower that bloomed after the freeze and existed even if no one ever saw it. It just was.
Two months turned to four which turned to six. I was excelling at work, my children were beginning to trust me, I was facing some dark demons through therapy, and the new medication was curbing the mania. I began reaching out to my extended family, asking for grace and forgiveness for the pain I’d caused and hoping to start again.
Eight months later I went to pick up the kids and my ex-husband, in the garage working on his bike, caught me off guard, “Hey, uh, I just wanted to say thanks.”
“Thanks for what?” I ask.
He stood, slowly and came closer to where I stood. Taking my hand in his, “For loving us enough to change. I see what you’re doing. It’s a good thing.”
Later that week I got a call late at night from him, “Hey, I was wondering if you’d wanna do lunch tomorrow? If not, that’s cool, just asking.”
Never in a million years did I ever expect that my ex husband would ask me to go to lunch with him. I was treading lightly on the soft waters of his heart, and I knew, going into this, he deserved the very best I had to offer and if I was honest with myself, I had to also ask if I was that best.
“Friends, right?” I asked over a Panera Asian salad. He smiled, “Yeah. Friends.”
I saw my ex in a different light that day, a man who had loved me more than anyone else ever had but who had the courage to stop being an enabler and protect his children from further damage. I saw the pain in his eyes, the having to let me go, but I also saw a new light forming there. Confidence. Trust in himself. We had both grown through our loss of one another, having chosen to be motivated to love without condition.
We started secretly getting together behind the kids’ backs. Motorcycle rides through the country side, late night phone calls, lunches, and often times just sneaking off for a few hours to sit in the car and talk. Friends. Just friends, I kept telling myself.
Nearly a year later I was washing dishes in my kitchen in my little rental house when the kids came rushing through my front door. I was surprised because it wasn’t my day or weekend to have them, “What are you doing here?”
Their eyes were wide, their breathing rushed, and I could tell they were so excited about something. My youngest daughter spoke first, “We gotta tell ya something!”
They pulled out a chair and sat me down in it, all gathering around me. Then, without warning, in walked my ex-husband.
With the children gathered around me, he got down on one knee. They all said, at the same time, in unison together, “We want you to come home.”
My ex-husband and I remarried in 2013 and have been blissfully overcoming our past history for a glorious five years and counting.
I get down on my knees almost every night before bed, and I pray the same prayer …
“… Thank you. Hold my spot. I’m not coming anytime soon.”
I continue to check myself daily, asking the hard question … what is my motivation? Am I self-seeking right now, am I wanting something in return, or am I simply loving to bless? Am I being the real me, a woman who has value, or am I performing so others will give me the feedback I think I need? It’s an on-going process, a daily refresher course, but what I do know for sure … what will always and forever be true for me isn’t just the fact that the night I wanted to die God saved me; but that he taught me love.
I hope you get the opportunity to love today. I hope that my story reminds you that you are worthy to be loved, as much as you are called to love others. Sharing the ugly, dark parts of my life is not easy, but we all have them and we’ve got to stick together to remind one another that we’re not in this alone. Be kind to yourself, and love with your whole heart.
And chocolate chip smiley face pancakes help too.