It all began with a phone call. The climax, that is.
Unsurprisingly, my husband and I had forgotten to re-enroll ourselves in a health insurance plan for the upcoming year. It was approximately 4:48 p.m. this past Friday when my husband desperately took action to beat the deadline. He called me with an urgent tone to obtain our daughter’s social security number in order to complete the process.
For the average person, such a request seems minor; to the mother on the verge of an emotional breakdown, however, this is enough to wage a war.
Where is her card? Oh, no, I can’t find her card…
[Cue wailing newborn and insert curious, no-personal-space toddler here]
Our pediatrician’s office asks all women who have recently delivered to complete a survey, which includes a rating of overall happiness. I remember feeling exuberant and elated after my son was born. I enthusiastically selected something to the effect of “extremely happy”. For my daughter, however, this has not been the case. A perfect storm of sleeplessness, two children under my care, and limited help from family had been forming, and I was in denial. I checked “happy” this most recent time, only stretching the truth just a little (at least in my mind).
Perhaps most dangerous is when we begin to lie to ourselves. What does an evening of mommyhood reckoning look like, you may wonder? Searching 2,400 square feet for three hours; pleading with your children to give you time alone; and letting an amazing dinner prepared by your spouse get cold. In the darkest moment of my motherhood journey, I found myself kneeling, sobbing into a stained hoodie while my husband led our kids to higher ground: the den.
I ate alone that night, long after my children had gone to bed. And, despite my passionate efforts, the document was never recovered.
In life there is always opportunity for redemption, forgiveness, and light. The next morning I confessed my unresolved depression to my husband and instantly felt release. He reminded me that I wasn’t alone in this fight, and we devised a plan for how we can overcome the challenges together.
It took less than one hour of reality to, again, bring me to my knees.
In the quiet moments of hope that only a morning of sunshine can offer, I received a text message from my college roommate. One of my most influential friends in college, a seasoned military leader, had taken his own life.
In what felt like a moment without clarity, I collapsed on our back porch with complete emotional resignation. In truth, I have been preparing myself for Jason’s death for several years. Given his passion for America and his enthusiasm for service, I felt in my heart that his life would end in a sacrifice, likely in combat, to preserve the lives of others. In his final battle, however, the demons triumphed.
The events of recent days have reminded me that where there is life, there are second chances – times to remind our children that we love them in spite of our flaws; moments to embrace those around us when we are fragile; and relational impacts to live on long after we do.
There are no easy answers to our personal struggles, but gut-wrenching perspective can help us keep our head above the water. The individuals we invest in the most, they are our lifeguards, and sometimes they cannot see our struggle, our desperation to breathe. It is up to us to let them in, to let them know that we need to be rescued from ourselves.
The final time I heard from Jason was over eight years ago. On April 16, 2007, I lived through one of the worst experiences of my life: the shootings on Virginia Tech’s campus. I was in graduate school and Jason had moved on to further military training. He wrote me an e-mail to let me know that he still cared for me and hoped that I was safe. In these moments, the gravity of small gestures is immense. You never forget who checks on you, who tells you they care, and who tells you that you are loved.
I am grateful that life is more than our mistakes, our missteps, and our misunderstandings. We cannot truly love ourselves without forgiveness of all that we get wrong. In the end, we are only remembered for our love, and we must swim, day and night even, to maintain our ability to love – regardless of how high the waters rise.
And, if you are lucky, you will see little people, children who are the most perfect extensions of you, waiting to run into your arms when you come up for air.