Half Down, The Rest To Go . . .

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We met in high school. He was my buddy, and that’s how I saw him. My friends talked me into dating him. I never dreamed how God would use that conversation on the Fighting Pelican football field during a Louisiana-humid danceline practice to direct the steps of my life.

We were married young. So young. Our marriage was so much harder than we imagined. We grew up together. We had different life goals – he wanted to be a small town boy with a respectable job forever, and I wanted to be a graphic designer in a major metropolitan city. We had different personalities, different communication styles. We truly were night and day. We fought a lot. We made it work. Our first year of marriage didn’t look like we imagined – fairy tale kisses and white turtle doves – it looked like struggle, and compromise, and hard work. It looked like more tears than laughs. We had great “game faces”. Years came, and they went. We survived financial struggles, a job that took him away most of the time, my parents’ divorce, challenges with acceptance from family members, the scare of a lump in my breast and surgery to remove it, changing friendships and circumstances. It was tough most of the time. We bought a house, made a life…

A few years into our marriage, we lost a man that we both dearly loved, and I saw my husband truly break down for the first time. He held me up during some of my hardest days. One year to the day after we buried that man, we found out that we were pregnant and had lost our first baby…on the same day. We sat, shaking, in the ER together while the doctor confirmed it. We told our families together. We absorbed the shock, and where to go from there.

We lost 6 more pregnancies in the next 6 years. We dealt with every emotion under the sun. It was so hard. We didn’t deal with loss in the same way, and we didn’t know how to communicate about it. We sat through doctor visits, examinations, blood tests, fertility tests, specimen cups, ultrasound after ultrasound, procedures to get us pregnant, procedures to keep us pregnant, procedures to find out why we couldn’t stay pregnant. I gave myself injections. He gave me injections. I wore bruises like badges of courage. He pretended like it was all ok. We counted days, we timed medications down to the minute, we held our breath a lot. It was hard, and we didn’t deal with any of it in the same way. It drove a wedge between us.

We separated for a while because, honestly, we couldn’t bare the sight of each other some days. We were angry. We weren’t sure if it was at ourselves or each other. But we were angry. We were disappointed and discontent. In that month, we learned a lot. We handled it differently, and we tried new things. But we knew that we didn’t want to be apart. Maybe we weren’t happy with how things were, but something didn’t feel right with us being apart either. And just as he carried all of his clothes out, he trudged them right back in.

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Through the years, we had a lot of ups and downs. We traveled and had some of the most fun times. We took road trips, we ate good food, we explored. We partied & drank & made some really bad choices. We sang loud and laughed until we cried. At the time, it was fun. At the time, it felt good. {Lord, I thank you every day for saving me from this version of me}

He took a job working away. We lived apart for several months, and I’d travel to see him. I loved the travel. He hated being away. He resented me for encouraging him to take the job. Probably for not being able to give him a baby too. We yelled a lot. He made great money, while it lasted. He was laid off a few months in, and we blew through our substantial savings so that we could get by. We didn’t know how our next set of bills would be paid at times. My income alone was good, but not nearly enough. We were broke, and we were scared. We were different people than when we got married. We were kids playing adult. We were in over our heads. But, we didn’t believe in any other way.

We spent our first 8 anniversaries apart. Work was important, and duty called. It’s hard on newlyweds, adapting to things like that. I remember the first anniversary we did spend together….we didn’t know how to act. Maybe that was part of the thing…we were too accustomed to apart, to know how to “do” together.

We said a lot of things we didn’t mean in those days. We said things just to hurt each other. There were tough times. It wasn’t all bad though. We made new friends, we began to find good friendship in each other. We bought cars & sold them. We bought houses & sold them. We changed a lot in those days. We grew up a lot. We learned to respect each other more. We enjoyed each other more. We lightened up a lot.

We talked about adopting. We drove hours on end to meet with people that could make it happen. We fretted over where on earth we would get that kind of money. We fretted over what would happen if they changed their minds & we lost all that money that we didn’t really even have. We fretted over what life would look like if we never had a baby. The awkward moments when people ask if you have kids, or if you want them. When people ask why you haven’t started a family yet. When family members make uncomfortable jokes about when they’ll ever get a grandbaby. When you’re the only person in the conversation that can only relate to the first trimester of the pregnancy. When you know pitying stares, and hushed whispers when you enter the room. We accepted it all, and that we’d always be “those” people. We decided to travel as much, and as far, as we could. We would save to buy our dream home, and do nice things for ourselves.

I gave him an out. We both knew it was me…I was the reason we couldn’t have babies. And if he wanted to leave, to pursue his dream of fatherhood with someone else, I wouldn’t stop him. I wouldn’t blame him. I would understand. It wasn’t his fault, and he didn’t know this going in. He swore that he would never leave. It was my reality check. No matter what, the boy that I married – the man that I was now married to – he loved me. Truly. For better or for worse. No matter what.

I tell you all this not to say our marriage was so bad, because it wasn’t. It was just tough. I tell you all of this, just to tell you how much we overcame. How thankful I am for where we are today…because it’s been a bumpy road! There were great times too! Plenty of them. But it isn’t the smooth road that builds character, now is it?

Life went on. All that fighting & learning to communicate…it got better. We grew. We matured. We settled into career paths that looked nothing like we’d dreamed, and we accepted where we were in this crazy little life.

We were given money. An inheritance from someone who hadn’t died yet. Someone who didn’t know our inner-debate over adopting, or how ungodly expensive it was. Someone who wanted us to have a baby almost as much as we did, and prayed to see a baby in our arms in their lifetime. We put the money aside. Maybe it would make a good down payment on that dream home. Lord knows we weren’t the kind of people to manage that kind of money.

Time marched on. A year went by. We sat in shock when we got the phone call. Someone wanted us to adopt their baby. The money. The prayers. This was it. With that phone call came a whole new set of marital “lesson planning”. We didn’t know where to start. We made phone calls, we contacted agencies, we made preparations. We divulged birth certificates, tax returns, bank statements, check stubs, letters of employment, letters of reference, fingerprints, state background checks, FBI checks, our religious background, our childhood home life, our education, our marital history, how we felt about each other, how we felt about our families, friends, medical histories, physicals, home visits, inspection of our home, making sure we had adequate space for a baby, that we were “childproofed”, that we had taken all safety measures. We sat through home visit after home visit. All those years of trial & patience building…they had to be leading up to this. It was stressful. Nail-bitingly stressful. We passed. Time passed. And to summarize a very long 9 months, we became parents to the most beautiful little boy we’d ever laid eyes on.

We drove hours to be there when he was born. We lived in a hotel for 13 days after he came into this world, waiting on paperwork to clear us to bring him home. All the parenting books…they don’t prepare you for taking care of a baby in a hotel room with paper-thin walls, no warmers or chillers or rockers or swingers or any of those fancy contraptions that make baby-life easier. It was hard. And it was the most amazing way to start parenthood. Just us. We were hours from family. Our new little family, learning to be a family on our very own. I still look back on those sweet days of taking my own newborn photos with hotel bedsheets & window light, lugging loads of laundry down to the hotel laundry room at 3 am when we ran out of onesies because we could only pack so many, running to the nearest store at 10pm to buy a bouncer because who knew you’d actually want to make room for one of those in the truckload of things. All the things. It was a beautiful, beautiful time. Love grew & ran rampant.

We loved him so much. It truly grew our love for each other. Don’t get me wrong. Learning to “be three” after being two for so many years – it’s tough. As I’ve said before, we have different styles of everything. Parenting included. He would get frustrated when I’d call him at work, crying myself, because this colicy little being wouldn’t stop crying to SAVE.MY.LIFE. I would get frustrated at his new-parent paranoia. I thought the poor child would never get to eat a solid food in his lifetime. He kept me aware, and I mellowed him. It was truly ironic, how our parenting styles were complete opposite of the way we did everything else. We learned so much about each other, and ourselves. Most of all, we learned to laugh at ourselves a lot of the time.

We sat as strangers examined us, made sure we were being “fit” parents. Then, there was a turning moment. We sat in a courtroom, while a judge declared him ours. That man I married…he couldn’t speak for his tears. The way I saw him in that moment…it changed me inside. I didn’t see the angry, quick-tempered person I knew. I saw a Dad whose dreams came true. The boy that loved me.

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We truly didn’t want him to be an only child. But we knew our chances of a successful pregnancy. We knew the statistics. And we knew we couldn’t afford another adoption. We also knew how broken we were after the last miscarriage. We were scared that, now that we knew how amazing this was, the loss of it now would truly wound us beyond repair.

We lost our 7th pregnancy, and then our 8th. With each heartbeat we saw flicker on that black & white screen, a piece of our heart came alive. And with each time we saw it disappear, a piece of us died. Seeing him go through those emotions was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. He had no control. I don’t know any other way to describe it. Literally, pieces of his heart died. Hope started to die. We had no idea what was wrong. What was going on!

We were adults now. When you’ve been through all that – finances, fights, fertility, failure – you can feel the adulthood on you. It’s like a coat. A heavy one that you can’t take off, no matter how hard you try.

You probably already know the story. We lost that last baby, and 14 hours later, we lost one of the most important people in our lives. God had quit knocking on our door. He’d started beating on it. We buried her on my mom, her daughters’, birthday. The next day, I was wheeled into the cold OR to finish what we figured would be our last pregnancy. I don’t even know a word to describe how we felt. Angry? That doesn’t do it justice. We didn’t talk much. We didn’t know what to say to each other. I didn’t want the past, the way we were, to creep back in…but it was trying. We tried to remain strong & united for our baby boy.

A late night conversation – one that involved questioning God, and possibly even his mere existence – led us to a church. We grew. We could feel ourselves and our relationship change when we walked in those doors. A lot happened. We heard a testimony that opened our hearts to possibility. We decided to talk to a doctor one last time. I let him do the talking, because I was honestly done. I didn’t want to cry any more. He handled for me, what he knew I wasn’t strong enough to bare. We had a conversation with our doctor, one that involved God being greater than medicine. He wanted to try. I could see it in his eyes. He wanted to try without the medicine, and shots, and bruises. I was scared, but he pushed. He pushed hard enough for me to listen. God pushed through him.  And I’m so glad he did.

I sought answers from God, and He answered loud and clear. We proceeded, against doctor advisement, without medicine. You know the story. We spoke life, we claimed His promises, we trusted Him and Him alone. We became parents again. Only by the grace of God. Only.

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Our marriage. I can literally feel the strength in it. I look back at the last 14 years, and I can see what God has done. What He’s doing. I can see purpose & maps & plans. I can see His work in it. It’s like I can almost see his blueprint. I can see why the hard times were worth it. I’m so, so thankful that JW Brookshire didn’t give up on me, when I felt like giving up on everything.

I was impossible and hard and ridiculous. I was mean. I was sad. I wanted a different life. I was depressed and lonely and scared. I was a lot of things, and a lot of people would’ve walked out on more than one occasion. Heck, I asked him to walk out! He stood by me through some of the most difficult things that I could’ve possibly faced. He will tell you – he didn’t always like me. I’m sure there were a few times he even questioned if he really loved me. But he stood by me. Because that’s the kind of man he is.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”  – Psalm 34:18

I tell you this because today, we’ve been married for 14 years. We’ve been together almost half of our lives. It’s true, maybe we’re no great example of how a marriage should look. I’ll be the first to admit, we’ve done a lot of wrong. We’ve gone about things the hard way, and the wrong way, more times than I care to admit. But, I sit here tonight to tell you that beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is by God’s grace and infinite mercy that I am married to this man. There’s no way I deserve him. But God had (has) a purpose for us – individually and together. He’s shown us weak, so He could make us strong.

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth”  – Exodus 9:16

That man called me just now. 5 times, to be exact, because he knew me so well. He knew I’d probably fallen asleep on the couch. And tomorrow is my first day back at work, so he wanted to be sure I had an alarm set for the morning. He would call until I answered, because that’s who he is. He’s my constant. My keeper. My help. My very best friend. Well honey, guess what….I only let you think I was asleep on the couch. I was doing this. Telling everyone we know how grateful I am for you.

God has placed great people in his life- Godly council, Godly influences. I thank Him every day for that. God has used great men of God to refine my man of God. He has opened his heart to allow God in. I’m so thankful for the beautiful work that the Lord is doing in my husband. He has given him a heart that I aspire for. He has given him a work ethic, an annointing for where he is now. He is working out his kinks. He is truly a purpose with a name.

God gave me the desires of my heart even back when I was 19 years old. I didn’t know it then. And for a lot of years, I didn’t feel like it. But, He was pruning us to be exactly who we are now….a perfect, perfect fit. A strong unity. A work still in progress. One.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” – Proverbs 19:21 

Father God, I’m so thankful that You know what is best for us. I’m so thankful that You go before me, and make the crooked paths straight. I’m so thankful that you placed a conviction in our hearts, that kept us together through it all. I’m so thankful that, even through the years that we didn’t turn to You, You kept us in Your steady, mighty hand.

JW- I’m all in. There’s no other story I’d rather tell. Dig two graves.

-gus

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