But I can’t.
I thought I’d never ache so badly as the day we lost it all and flew back across the ocean, the second time we’d crossed that ocean in less than a year. Surely that was the worst pain I’d ever feel, that dull ache that never went away, tears just waiting to fall. If I could just get through life with an intact marriage and four littles, I would consider that good. We found a tiny house with a rent we could afford in an okay neighborhood. It wasn’t much but it had hardwood floors and a decent yard for the kids. It was just a place to land with no job and no prospects. We’d make do.
We did. Adam worked hard in a dry cleaning plant in the mornings; in the afternoons he would deliver that dry cleaning; the evenings he used to try to regain his freelance writing career. I focused on homeschooling kids, housework, and healing. We found out we were expecting again, a surprise that didn’t coincide with my “get through this life with four littles” plan. Life was hard. So damn hard. We longed for community, for the right place to lead worship, for a way to belong again. Nothing came and every door we thought we’d walk through was slammed shut in our faces. Even though we’d come “home” it seemed “home” was no longer able to house us. Or it didn’t know how anyway.
Then the kick came.
Five boys with five shotguns all pointed at me in my living room. My worst nightmare was being lived out. I wasn’t sure I’d live through it. I still can’t believe I did, that we did. There are really no words to describe the terror I felt that night. The thought of my children’s last memories of their mother being her death screams.
Those five boys, they killed someone the next night. We were spared.
The effects of that night have wrecked me. I live in constant fear and worry of it happening again. I’m afraid of guns. I live in a cussing open-carry state; sometimes when I’m out and I see someone proudly wearing a gun on their hip, something in me wants to take off and run. I’m always planning my escape, searching for my exit. I question everything and everyone I see is suspicious. I’m afraid to leave my house, because I feel safest here. And also most vulnerable. I never don’t feel vulnerable. Like a target. I’m a clustercuss of emotions. Being awake in the night is terrifying to me. When I’m most afraid I talk to myself, I say: “That was only the ______________, everything’s okay. Nothing is going to happen. You’re safe. You’re okay. You’re okay….” I try to remember to breathe during that 15-second pep talk and when I do that is what settles me most. Deep yoga breaths. The ones that got me through five natural labors, those.
The boys with the five shotguns stole so much more than a laptop and $20 that night….they stole my peace, my sense of security.
Sometimes I worry I’ll never get it back and that puts me on a whole other crazy spin. The one that fears life is hopeless, that God didn’t stop bad things and He won’t again. That life might as well be over. A happy life is gone. These thoughts make me want to hide in the darkest caves. Professional therapy has not been an option; we just haven’t had the funds and insurance is not part of the freelance “benefit package.”
But the real truth is my hope is not gone. Everything is not lost.
I’ve begun volunteering at a food pantry twice a week, and finding a place to serve has been important to my healing, but every time is hard for me. I’m anxious before going, I’m anxious while there. But I go anyway. I’ve been going with my big kids for 6 months, and now it’s our favorite part of the week. Being welcomed and received by the staff and guests reminds me that I’m still needed in the world. That we are. That we have a place. And it feels so good. I meet Jesus in the stories and faces of our guests every week. They give me strength and hope. He gives me strength and hope.
I also find hope in my immediate family. My husband and I are still madly in love after 17+ years and five babies. His care and patience with me is overwhelming. He shows me Jesus on a daily basis. My kids are healthy and they love and LIKE each other. Our family is stronger because of what we’ve gone through. This is a gift.
As difficult as it has been and as broken as it’s made me, I’m also changed for the good. My heart has not grown bitter and I see that as the greatest gift. I do not hate the boys who stole my peace–I pray for them. For their families. I hope they are okay. I know struggle in a way many don’t and because of that I’m able to show compassion to those struggling. This is a gift. In going through what we have I’ve realized many do not know how to walk through pain with others. It is a learned art. One I’ve come to know only through walking the lonely road of suffering myself. Just sitting with someone in their pain is holy. To listen and affirm, a gift.
I’ve been through pain unspeakable. We all have. Sharing our stories and realizing that together we are strongest–that is worth the hard. Together we are a force unstoppable.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!