recovering safety & sight

Last year, the day I moved home, my mom came to me with a handful of miniature nativities. All small enough to fit in her palm, one was meant for me as a gift from her recent trip to Italy. She was surprised by my choice, the little wooden family, carved as one piece and painted with muted colors. The most rustic, least detailed, least dazzling of the group. 

Where my mother was surprised, I felt it was obvious, almost logical, to choose this little walnut-sized family. Look at baby Jesus! He was sleeping, tucked into the arms of His mother, enveloped by Joseph, their mantles melted into one. How could I not tuck myself into that little nativity? That smallest Jesus was the safest Jesus.

Months later, I began therapy. My journey towards healing began by addressing those underlying currents that had propelled me out of my marriage and, instinctually, towards whatever appeared the safest. 

I found I felt unsafe emotionally, having known a love that withdrew and told me I was a mistake. Unable to trust that a heart promised to protect me would continue to be willing. I had learned I lived in a world where I could give my all, over and over again, and I would not be good enough. I could be rejected, forgotten and unwanted. 

I learned I felt unsafe spiritually, unable to express the truths of my faith without conflict. Unsafe to pray openly at home. Unsafe to talk about what shaped my heart and soul and what I believed at my core. Unsafe to put God first, because that meant my husband would only love me less. 

I realized that, at times, I even felt unsafe physically, having lived with a man who’s rage frightened and shocked. Unsafe in intimacy, unable to trust my body to a partner who pushed boundaries. Leaving me with one eye over my shoulder at all times, in all situations.

Hour after hour was poured into therapy, claiming a new space where I could breathe. It was safe to exist, to take up room, and to trust my environment again. 

Okay. Great.

So I’m safe within myself. Within my heart. My mind. My home.

Where does that leave me and God?

It leaves me angry.

It leaves me feeling like God is dangerous. Because I prayed novena after novena after novena, made sacrifice after sacrifice, and endless, endless, loops on my rosary. Because I journaled and prayed and reflected and talked and asked for prayers and guidance and felt like I was in a good place, I was doing the right things, I wasn’t even having sex! I was even using NFP! 

All that, and, guess what, I got hurt anyway. My heart got broken. He didn’t see me or hear me or want me or convert or grow or treat me better. Nothing. I didn’t get kids or stability or healing or holiness. I asked for help and thought God was reassuring me, thought I was having peace, but really it was just moments of relief. No signs, no reassurance, just interludes in the cycle of abuse. 

And now I look into the face of the God I trusted, the God who led me to believe there were great things in store for me.

What great things? 

This?

Why?

I can’t open my hands, I can’t let You in, I’m angry and I’m hurt and I don’t understand. I think I find You untrustworthy. Because I used to trust, and the one meant to love me for forever, the one meant to make Your love tangible, abandoned me. Abused me. Ignored me. Withdrew from me. It feels like You did that.


I pause in my anger, and I see Mary Magdalene in my heart. I’ve always had a soft spot for her, the woman who struggled with sexual sin. I took on some of her shame in my own relationships, sometimes carrying a burden heavier than I was meant to, not realizing that ‘no means no’ still applies when he says he loves you. Not realizing that not everything was my fault. Not realizing that seeing Mary Magdalene as an adulterer was an unfair projection onto a woman who should’ve been known for more.

I think I finally see her now.

God didn’t love her ‘in spite of’ her sin. He loved her before the sin. He loved her for more than the evils we blame on her, before the labels and the embarrassments and the character she took on in the narrative we created. 

When she was called adulterer and stripped in the street and stoned by her neighbors, God did not see what we all saw- a sinner, a prostitute. He saw a woman abused. He saw a woman desperate and abandoned by her people, trying to survive in a culture structured to leave women dependent on men. A community where women were left with very few options or resources of their own. He saw a woman who had been taken advantage of, her weaknesses exploited, her body marked, her soul abused, her heart broken. 

He saw a woman out of options. 

He presented her with a new one.

He saw her on the ground, kissing His feet, and, no He did not begin by asking her for everything. Even less- he asked for nothing. In return, He presented her with love.

I imagine she was overwhelmed and tired. I imagine she had a multitude of reservations, and a heart in need of healing. I imagine she was afraid. 

I imagine she didn’t have a heart ready to abandon to a Savior. I imagine she was guarded. I imagine that was okay. 

All she did, all she needed to do, was look up, and look into the eyes of the One Who loved her. A small movement, but a movement of courage. Not everything, but a place to start.

Jesus, I don’t have much for You right now. I’m guarded. I’m hurt. 

Even still, even here, I’ll try to let you see me. I’ll try to meet Your gaze.

It’s not everything, but it’s a place we can start.

St. Mary Magdalene, pray for us. 

an anniversary

Our wedding anniversary was this week. Of all the memories I have of our wedding, the ride to the church is what’s been following me around lately. I was with my dad crammed into the front seat of his car, drowning in tulle. We rode through the Dunkin’ drive through and ordered iced lattes like it was a normal day. I wonder if we knew what I was getting myself into.

After that, memories of the dancing or the church haven’t bothered me like I thought they would. Instead, it’s the night after. I didn’t have much planned, just was hoping for a sweet moment in some girly cupcake-fluff lingerie. We had danced so much that we were both too sweaty for that, so instead of a sexy moment we just slipped into normal life like we were meant to be there. He helped me unzip my dress and birdseed fell all over the carpet. I got into the shower, where he found me, and it felt like coming home. 

And then Costa Rica. So hot, so sticky in our quiet jungle cabin. So deep in the jungle there was hardly anything to distract us from each other, but also too removed from the world for air conditioning. Required a lot more showering. Something about that stands out to me most of all- beyond the awkward first-time-sex energy… It was such a normal thing, but became something kind of lovely. He let me wash his hair. It wasn’t much, but felt vulnerable and intimate, something like a secret. And honestly, you don’t let just anyone wash your hair. You could create chemistry with just about anyone if you tried hard enough, but something about closing your eyes and letting someone shampoo you is meant for people you really trust. I was happy to do it. It felt very wifely, like a simple I love you that was brand new to our brand new way of life. 

We were happy that week. There were frogs and flowers, sloths and iguanas, fresh fruit from the garden. Walks to town for fish, piña coladas, sunburns, and the strange dark color of the sand. I remember laughing and talking and ending every night on the deck. Him in the hammock, me in the rocking chair. There was hope. Maybe relief, too, that I had his attention all to myself, and he was being so devoted after months of the opposite. We got lost in each other a bit, and it felt like it could stay that way forever. I knew marriage would be work, but I thought we’d always find each other and find a way through. We had before.

Someone asked me the other day when the rest of it started – the neglect, the bizarre manipulation. I think it only took a month. It’d all been happening, really, but something about living with someone highlights their worst in a more obvious light. Obviously. So there we were, him talking to me like I was stupid, me with those first alarm bells tinkling in the back of my mind- he’s just stressed, he’s just tired, it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. 


After my wedding, grief had me flipping through the Rolodex of the other weddings we’d been to. Usually they were good times, except for one we’d been to in October, right at the start of a bad stretch. I felt his mood shifting while the leaves were turning, like the weather was changing for us too.

It started with the bachelor party, where he’d either he’d been to a few full-nude strip clubs and lied about it, or he was so damn drunk he honestly couldn’t remember a thing. I couldn’t tell which version of the story annoyed me more. Then there was the reception; he made a joke about getting me drunk just in case I was pregnant from the weekend before. Wanted to fix that problem, ha freakin’ ha. Then he asked – Are you done? Meaning: was I done being an annoyed/annoying crazy wife because, really, none of my feelings were worth talking about for real. Best to ignore it all and be done. That night he woke me up for sex that hurt more than it should. He was drunk and careless and I thought I couldn’t say no. It felt too weird to talk about after.

Then there was last year’s anniversary. We’d had a barbecue for the holiday weekend with some friends, and everyone was happily buzzed and ready for summer. At the end of the night it was just the two of us and we started fooling around on the patio, as one does when buzzed in the summer. It was sweet until he couldn’t quite keep it going enough for sex and the night ended with me guiltily helping him towards a one-sided finish line. Started out feeling a little loved, ended up feeling a little used. 

I cried that night, wanting God to make it end- the guilt, the coercion, the fear of what would happen to me if I starting telling my husband no. No, I don’t like how that makes me feel. No, this doesn’t seem like you want to have sex because you love me, this feels more like you just want something from me and more than anything, I’m scared because I really don’t think you care what I think. 

There’ve been many more tears since then at his expense, but that was one of the last when things were good. Good-ish. Maybe normal is a better word? Back when things were status quo. Before I’d decided I’d had enough. 

I miss Costa Rica. I miss the simplicity, the easy sex and showers and undivided attention. I miss loving and feeling loved. It’s a small moment of time untouched, like a little pocket in the jungle still wild. I wish it could’ve lasted. 

when you love the one you left

I still miss you. 

I’ve been having dreams where we’re together and I can’t quite remember why we were ever apart. We’re happy again until I wake up and I’m left feeling like I’ve been visited by your ghost and that old maybe-I’ll-let-the-shit-slide feeling starts to haunt me; the old feeling I used to use when I crammed everything else down. I did it because I liked you and it felt like too much to tackle anyway.

And because your eyes crinkled when you laughed. 

The ghost starts unraveling my day with memories of our sweeter life. And then I miss you more.

I miss rubbing your back while we fell asleep. I miss sitting in bed eating trail mix and laughing. I miss hearing you sing in the shower. I miss your wedding ring, slow dancing, your arms around me. 

Sometimes you made me feel wanted. Needed. Special. Loved.

I think about that night near the end of it all when I sat on the side of the guest bed. I had started making you sleep in there. You didn’t understand at first and it was a stab in my heart every time I had to remind you and remind myself that I was leaving you. We shouldn’t be in the same bed anymore. Please go stay in the other bed. Over and over I told you. 

Then that night you were in that bed and I was just out of the shower, sitting on the edge in a little nightgown and crying. 

What a strange crossroads. How easily I could have just put it all away and invited you back to our room. How much I wanted to. I wanted you back where I remembered you, back where you wanted me and we could love each other. Instead, I was there crying, and you were telling me I was doing this. 

I guess in a way you were right. I was doing this. I was the one that was leaving. I was the one walking away. And I guess I didn’t have to.

I wish I didn’t have to. Too long, though, I had forgiven and forgotten and pushed and shifted and smashed things under the rug. It would have been easier to let it go again, and again, and again, and fall back into the pattern of life where it was good and I was holding my breath for the moment it wouldn’t be good anymore. 

Instead I’m waking from dreams of you to April mornings in this new life of mine, and I drift back to those springs that built our old life.

It was the last spring of high school when we started dating. It was a season of milkshakes after school, hikes in melting snow, runs in the park when the sun set late. It was kayaking and kissing, talking and star-gazing, Malibu in Coke and long rides in your truck. You were quiet back then. You were the strong, football-playing guy who secretly just wanted to hold my hand. You were sweet and you listened and your sturdiness made me feel soft. 

We got engaged on a late May night four years later. You were driving me home from college when we stopped in a park where you bent down with the ring I’d picked out a month before. The crickets chirped their congratulations and we got lost on the way back home. 

Our wedding was the spring after that. It was beautiful. Somehow, still one of the most satisfying, full, lovely days of my life. There was joy and flowers, all the people I loved in one place, and so much dancing I ruined my dress. It was heaven. Our whole hopeful lives were ahead of us, and when we smashed cake into each other’s faces I didn’t mind a bit. I loved the way we could make each other laugh. And then our honeymoon was the loveliest, laziest, stickiest week in the jungle I will never forget. It was you and me, alone on the planet, soaking each other in with the sun. There were rocking chairs and seafood, walks and sunburns and as much sex as we could manage. We belonged to each other.

We bought our first house last March. You made a joke about being stuck with me when we signed for the 30-year mortgage. Not so funny now, I suppose. We had plans for that house, though, ideas for the deck and the porch. You built a workshop in the garage and I was beside myself with the joy of a functional washer-dryer. 

Your family came to visit that spring and the week we spent with them might have been our last good time. You were easy to be around with your family there. It was safe for me. I felt at home with them. We swam and played cards and enjoyed the breezy California bloom. There was a lemon tree the kids loved and wine for the rest of us.

It’s hard to come to terms with these two versions of our marriage- the one where you were sweet and strong, and the one where you were angry and absent. The times where I was seen and the times I was invisible. 

I used to walk into the future holding on to these Springs of the Past- the easy, bright days full of hope- until that night on the guest bed, when I sat and cried over the place I’d finally put you in. I knew I needed to let the bad come out from where I’d hidden it and let it be as real as the good. I knew I needed to choose a future where I didn’t have to hide secrets or live hurt. That night I had to hold our marriage in my hands and cry, because I knew that when I chose to walk away from the darkness, I would leave behind a little light too. 

It’d be easier to pretend it never existed so I could just hate you. Instead, I’m here, in this first spring in this new life of mine, and I’m realizing I really only said goodbye to the man that I left. I need to say goodbye to the man that I loved.

So, goodbye to you. 

Goodbye to the boy who walked with me in the woods and carved our names in the tree.

Goodbye to the writer of my love letters, to my prom date, to my football-watching, dog-walking friend.

Goodbye to your arms and the songs you sang me. Goodbye to your lips. Goodbye to my rocking chairs and your cigars and country-music summer nights. Goodbye bonfires and dancing. Goodbye car rides and long talks and sharing families.

Goodbye to the part of my heart I gave you. Goodbye to my hopes for our future. Goodbye to our imaginary children playing in their imaginary yard and the way I thought you’d look when you held our babies. Goodbye to Christmas mornings and Sunday coffee and Game Night. 

Goodbye to your laugh. Goodbye to your smile. Goodbye to those moments where you made me feel safe.

Goodbye, friend. I love you.