Today marks the five-year anniversary of my nightmare’s beginning. The moment when the choices of another would change everything. But I’m not here to talk about that directly. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure I see it that way anymore. I’ve spent my time lying near the stagnant waters of poor me, and why me, losing blood by the pints. Bloodsucking mosquitoes of negativity and unbelief eager to leave me withered and wanting. I imagine the waters of Bethesda on the days the pool was left unstirred – devoid of hope and healing. No angel to be seen. Hordes crowding the banks, waiting beneath heaps of negativity. Drowning in excuses. Sick. Dying. Less Than. Unclean. Unworthy.
I dip my toe in from time-to-time – triggered by overwhelming emotions from the past, learned responses. But God is always there! Never allowing my mat to hit the ground, forever steering me towards the living waters. Ever-present. Whispering sweet reminders – I have a plan. You have a purpose. I will make this right. Believe in me, my love. I roll up my mat, lean into my Father, and head home. Maybe this is the wall I slam into when I attempt to share the past. Five years in, and I’m starting to disconnect from it all – what happened – who I was – what I lost. I’m beginning to believe my season of emptiness is anything but empty.
Is this what it feels like to drop the baggage? How many bags did I drop? How many stripped away by the Lord above? How many does it take to feel like this? Handbags of stress and worry. Duffel bags of shame and pain. Suitcases of memories trapped in darkness. Not the flashy bags with handles and wheels, but decades old hand-me-downs hanging from my limbs – weighing on my soul. I never saw it happening, but I’m certain it’s happening still. Somewhere sits a room of lost luggage, a supernatural collection of what was. A world of belongings lacking purpose in my life.
Instead of seeking refuge in lost luggage, I want to talk about the ONE piece I nearly lost. The ONE piece of luggage I never saw as luggage at all. A small glittery clutch held close to my heart. Placing only the most personal of belongings within. Trusting. Cherishing the beauty and comfort of my most cherished treasure. See, I’ve never been the girly-girl, the princess who collects bags and shoes and men. No, I held my belongings in my pocket – they were safer there. Besides, baggage creates a need for more. The bigger the bag, the more space to fill. Expectation. Love. Pain. Disappointment. Joy.
I stumbled across this treasure of mine when I least expected. She walked into my life 15 years ago. The most kind and gracious of spirits – a fierce woman of loving strength. She was 23, a transplant from Long Island. An applicant. An interviewee. I was 29, a transplant from Ohio. Playing the role of manager; never expecting that God had placed an angel before me. Placed there at the precipice – an answer to a prayer whispered in my sleep.
She is the first friend I have ever loved.
LOVE was something I did not allow – forever hiding my heart from the stomping boots of life. Yet, somehow unbeknownst to me, I fell in love. I allowed myself to be real with another human being. I leaned into what friendship could be – I was ALL IN. Flaws and all. We lived in different worlds – I had a family of my own, and she still lived with her parents. She was living the single life, and I was raising a kindergartner. The moments we had together were so easy. There is no other word for it. I never questioned myself with her. I never felt the urge to hide or edit. She always accepted me for me. I hoped I could do the same for her.
Expectations and disappointment can wear on a relationship; creating chaos while leaving seeds of doubt behind. I started keeping score. I took pause, placing our love on the scale, witnessing what I thought I was imbalance. I world of taking without giving. My dysfunctional point of view leading me to believe that the greatest treasure of my life was destroying me. I could no longer distinguish between what was real and what was manufactured. Cancelled plans, and unreturned texts. Dropped calls, and vacant voicemails. Words unsaid. Feelings floating in the air. Tears streaming down my face – a sea of broken promises.
The hopeless romantic in me having no clue what friendship truly looks like. I could never quite get it all to line up with the picture in my head. That’s always been the problem. I seem to have a series of Rockwell’s in my mind – a carousel of disproportionate expectations. Nothing and no one ever fitting the images crafted so carefully within the portraits of perfection. What I didn’t see then, were the skewed ideals of a self-loathing people-pleaser. I didn’t understand the hierarchy of life. I thought if I gave enough of myself to those I loved, then they would return the favor with equal measure. Placing me first in their lives, just as I did for them in mine.
I didn’t know God came first. I never witnessed a life lived by placing one’s spouse before everyone else. I never experienced the beauty that is family first. But see, my treasure, the sweet little clutch God placed in my hands 15 years ago, she knew about these things. She was built on a foundation of faith and understanding. She has always prioritized family over everything, and I commend her for that. I saw her as a taker, but she never asked for what I was freely giving. She simply accepted, with beauty and grace, the gifts I placed before her. I wish I could have done the same.
Instead I allowed disappointment to rule my world; keeping score and taking note. Our friendship took a hit when I moved to Montana, the pain of being abandoned leaving wounds, but I felt we recovered gracefully. Unfortunately, a head-on collision, a year of rehab, surgery, and mental purgatory, led me down a path I never saw coming. I don’t remember taking the turn, I’m not sure I had a hand in the mapping of the journey. Still. through all the tears and heartache of that first year, I found myself lashing out in anger.
I was jaded! Convinced that I had spent my life giving freely to the takers of the world. Imagining a pit of snakes eager to take whatever I was willing to offer. The score keeper reminding me of the effort put forth in my relationships. My effort, not theirs. I was exhausted. I had held the paintings of perfection in my head for too long, I couldn’t tell what was real anymore. Then one day it all came crashing down! Heartbreak. Mental breakdown. Flashes of rage feeding my soul. My injured heart feeling abandoned and alone in its time of need. How could I give and give and give, only to be left on the side of the road? Abandoned like a heap of trash – discarded with the waste.
The darkness consumed me – fight or flight, which will it be? I gambled on both. I can’t remember the exact words, and I pray she has forgotten them as well, but it went a little like this…. “The pain is too much. I can’t cry anymore. Please ….” I can’t even remember. I don’t want to remember, but in the end, I asked her to leave my life, to forget about me. Words were exchanged; layered in scorn and confusion. A desperate attempt to fight the pain we were both feeling. Characters on a screen. Pain in my heart. A river of tears flooding my soul. An epic failure of emotional imbalance – I tossed my precious treasure out the window. Left her sitting there on the side of the road, convinced my life was better off without her.
I Was Wrong!