Looking Back


When I was eighteen years old, facing my high school graduation, I also faced an uncertain future. I lived in California–not the nice, beachy part of California but a small rest-stop-of-a-town in the middle of the desert, right on the border between Mexico and California. The economy was terrible; people who had jobs weren’t quitting or retiring. People who didn’t have jobs were flooding the only community college in the area, making it nigh impossible for kids right out of high school to get the classes they needed. I felt a little stuck, unsure what was coming next for me. I also wanted a car (back then a car equaled freedom and not an insurance bill and endless gas payments) but my parents weren’t wealthy enough to get me one. They told me they’d pay for half but I needed a job in order to raise the other half of the payment. Thankfully, my grandparents (who lived in Phoenix, AZ) offered to house me for the summer. My uncle said he could get me a job at the corner deli where he’d gotten his first job.

I’d visited my grandparents before, for up to a week every summer. But this was different. This would be for an entire summer. I’d never been away from home, without my parents, for that long. It should’ve been scary, the prospect of moving. Instead, I felt at peace. I just knew in my heart that this was what I was supposed to do. A little voice said, “Go.” So I did.

I spent that summer working, holed up in my room writing, or attending my grandparents’ church. It was enormous compared to the church I grew up in, which had 50 regular attenders at the most. This new church had a college group, which I eagerly began to attend. With so many people who had grown up in the church together, it was hard for me (the new kid, the socially awkward introvert with terrible self-esteem) to make friends. Still, I persevered because that certainty in my heart of hearts remained. I knew God wanted me there. So, instead of going back to California after the summer was through, I stayed in Phoenix.

It was hard. Sometimes I’d come back from college group, face plant into my pillow, and cry myself to sleep because I was so discouraged and lonely. Sometimes, I’d come home from a long shift at work, lie on my back on the floor, and prop my feet up on my desk because my ankles were so swollen. Sometimes, I’d wonder what my purpose was for being there. I wondered if things were ever going to get easier.

I got progressively more involved with my church. I volunteered in the nursery. I volunteered in the mid-week children’s Bible program. I started singing in the choir. I saved my pennies and finally bought myself a car, a tiny Dodge Neon that was my pride and joy. I moved out of my grandparents’ house, into a flat above an older couple’s garage. The garage was separate from the house so I had my privacy and independence. I got a new job at Chipotle, started community college.

That was hard too. My bosses quickly learned that I was fast and efficient, so they put me in the back. I labored over a giant stove and a grill, sweating constantly, burning myself constantly, slicing and dicing and marinating and washing enormous piles of dishes and scrubbing floors. It was the most physically demanding job I’d ever had. Sometimes, I had to work nights and came home after midnight. Only to wake up early the next morning and rush off to class. I didn’t have a washer or dryer in my flat. I had to go to the laundromat once a week. I still remember doing my homework as I waited for my laundry to be done, all the while keeping my eye out for suspicious characters.

Things at church got a little better; I made a handful of friends at least. Then I met the man who would later become my husband. We dated, got engaged, and married all within a two year span. We moved into a tiny apartment. I got a new job working as a receptionist for my church. While it wasn’t physically demanding, it was mentally taxing. Dealing with all sorts of people who came through the door, looking for financial assistance, looking for counseling, looking to help organize various events, looking to sell me something; it was exhausting. But sitting for hours and hours at a desk, waiting for a phone to ring, also provided me with endless time to write. I completed multiple manuscripts while fulfilling my receptionist duties. I also had time to do homework and finished my schooling while working there. I’ll always be thankful for that time in my life.

But then I transitioned into writing and being an author almost full time, which proved to be hard as well. Despite how diligently I tried to have a social media presence and promote my books on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest, despite keeping up a blog and sending out a monthly newsletter, despite writing and rewriting my books to make sure they were the best versions of themselves, I wasn’t making any money. I read articles, I consulted other authors, I used free and paid online promotional services, I made Facebook and Bookbub ads, I even did some cross promotion with other authors. Nothing. Worked. It was so incredibly frustrating! I started questioning whether it was worth it, being an author. But the voices in my heart and mind, the voices of my characters and my loved ones and my inner child, couldn’t be silenced. So I kept trying.

Three years later, we welcomed our son into the world. Becoming a mother brought on new challenges. Breastfeeding a premie proved to be impossible; he was struggling so much to gain weight so I resorted to pumping and bottle feeding. Those were scary days and endless nights as we tried to figure it all out. Thankfully, we did. One day, we weren’t just surviving anymore. We were living, having created a new routine to incorporate our little one into our lives. It was a beautiful time. Until I had to go back to work. I left my precious boy with my grandmother and a friend of the family while I worked from 8AM to 4:30PM, Monday through Friday. For a whole year I balanced work, writing, and motherhood. Little sleep, little time with my baby, little time with my husband. I longed for the day when I could be at home full time. Just when I thought I’d finally gotten used to being a working mom, we found out we were going to have another baby. And it was made very clear that I couldn’t keep working.

So when our daughter was born, I quit my job at the church. I became a full time mom, just like I’d always wanted. But that was hard too. Being stuck indoors all the time with two babies, one of which was very gassy and colic-y, was taxing on my mental health. I went through post-partum depression, started questioning my ability to be a good mother and wife, struggled with anger and hopelessness, could hardly put words on a page. Fortunately, that season–like the others–did eventually pass. God was good and provided for our financial needs until I was in a better place, mentally, and able to work again. A friend of ours told us about a remote job opportunity through the company he worked for and I prayerfully submitted an application. I was hired maybe two months later.

Baby girl still wasn’t sleeping through the night and learning my job responsibilities took time, so it was another sleepless season for me. But I was thankful for the opportunity to help provide for the family and determined to do this job well. After all, it had been an answer to prayer. It took time to grow accustomed to the new routine, to balance work with writing and book marketing, and motherhood and being a homemaker and wife. There are days when I still get overwhelmed, frustrated, and discouraged, and I start to wish things weren’t so hard.

But life has always been hard, hasn’t it? Just in different ways. And with every new set of challenges comes a new type of joy, one provided by my gracious Heavenly Father. I can look back with gratitude and celebration, look forward with confidence despite the unknown, because I know wherever I go, whatever I face, whatever I do, He will always be there.

A lesson on pride

“Adventure is out there,” my husband said Saturday morning, holding his fist out so that I could bump it with my own.

Despite his knee injury, my husband is going hunting next weekend. I’ve tried talking him out of it but to no avail. He’s been planning this trip with his cousin for months and nothing is going to keep him from going. (Unless, by some miracle, his surgery is scheduled before Friday). So Saturday was his prep day. He hobbled around the house, gathering all the supplies he would need on his trip. (“Babe, could you look for my brown and blue boots? I can’t find them anywhere.” “Have you checked the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet, love?” “What box?” “Never mind. I’ll go look…You mean these?” “Yeah! Where’d you find them?” “In the box labeled shoes in the guest room’s closet.” Lol.)

Next order of business was getting his rifle sighted in. Instead of paying to go to the shooting range, my husband figured we’d be able to find a secluded spot in the mountains somewhere to shoot for free. So we loaded the truck with his rifle, some targets, shooting earmuffs, and ammunition. After a pit stop at Sonic for Limeades, we turned up Pandora and then hit the road.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been on an adventure,” he said with a grin full of child-like excitement.

Three hours, three “No Target Shooting” signs, and a half a tank of gas later and the  excitement was replaced by annoyance.

“Sloppy shooters ruin it for everyone,” my husband grumbled as we pulled into the shooting range. “They take their old TVs and refrigerators and shoot them up in the wilderness, and then leave the pieces out there for rangers and boarder patrolmen to find. Maybe if they cleaned up after themselves, we wouldn’t have “No Shooting” signs all over the place.”

By happy coincidence, the shooting range was offering to sight in rifles for the upcoming hunting season. My husband had the opportunity to sit with two old timers who knew a heck of a lot more about guns than he did. They had a great conversation about hunting, gun cleaning and assembly.

“I thought they were going to be jerks at first,” he told me as we drove home about an hour later. “The guy told me I had the wrong set up for hunting, talked to me like I didn’t know anything. Turns out, I don’t know anything.” He chuckled. “It didn’t feel to good but I’m thankful we ended up at the shooting range. It was totally a God-thing. He knew I needed to talk to those old guys and get a pride check.”

“Well, hey,” I said, “at least you learned something new.”

“Yeah, but still…my ego’s bruised.”

I laughed. “Oh, I understand. Take it from someone who lives with you, a guy with much knowledge about things I can’t even begin to understand; it’s not easy to just smile and say, ‘Thank you. I didn’t know that.’ But it beats staying upset about it. Be humble, babe. Have a teachable spirit. You learned something new today and are better for it. Now you can pass on that new knowledge to someone else.”

It’s true that when we first got married, I’d get upset whenever he proved to be better at something or know more about something or have a better way of doing something than I did. He’d beat me at cards, prove one of my facts wrong, show me a quicker way to get to work in the morning so that I could avoid traffic, all with a good attitude and good intentions. I’d sit there simmering silently, feeling like a dumb loser, until I could let it go. It took time and God gently tapping on my heart, reminding me that I once admired this man for his skills and his knowledge. If I let my jealousy and inadequate feelings get the better of me, it would poison our marriage. So I worked on praising my husband instead of looking down on myself whenever he proved to be more knowledgeable than me.

I feel I’ve become a better person and a better wife for taking on this new attitude. On Saturday I was able to pass that little lesson on to my husband. It’s amazing how that works. We might not have had that conversation at all if it weren’t for those “No Target Shooting” signs, so I’m thankful for them.

A true account

Sunday, 7:45PM:

“All right, babe,” I say as we get ready for bed.

“Tomorrow we get back into our workout routine?” my husband assumes.

“You got it. We’ve slacked off for too long.”

Monday, 11:40AM:

‘So I hurt my knee at work today…’ he texts me.

Doesn’t sound too serious, I think. Maybe it’ll be all better by the time I get home.

Monday, 5:50PM:

“It hurts to walk,” he says as he plays Destiny 2. “I can’t put pressure on it.”

“What?” I gasp. “It’s that bad?”

“Yeah. My boss said to go to urgent care if it doesn’t feel better by tomorrow morning.”

“So how does this work? You’ll get up tomorrow at the same time you always do, get out of bed, and if you can’t stand, I take you to urgent care?”

“Sounds about right.”

I try to remain calm despite the ringing in my ears. “Okay.” As soon as my back is turned, I text everyone I know and ask them to pray.

Tuesday, 3:45AM:

The alarm goes off. I crack an eye open to watch him crawl out of bed. He tries to put weight on his injured knee and collapses back into the mattress with a groan.

Looks like we’re going to urgent care…

I throw the blanket off and hurry around the bed to help him.

Tuesday, 4:00AM:

“Can you grab my shoes?”

“Yes, love.”

“Oh, and a hat too, please?” His hair is so long and unruly; he’d rather cover it up than try to fix it.

You’re so cute. “All right. I’ll be back.”

“Don’t forget my wallet.”

“Yes, dear.”

“Oh, babe? Can you get some socks too?”

“Here you go.”

“Um…” He holds out the right sock. “Can you give me a hand?”

I suppress a smile as I bend down before his injured knee and carefully slide the sock over his foot. I can see myself doing this in the future, when he’s old and has arthritis or something. In sickness and in health…

“I’m sorry I’m such an invalid,” he says with a sheepish smile.

“Don’t worry about.” I’m supposed to take care of you, silly. I’m your wife.

“Your car is too low to the ground. I don’t think I could get in or out of it,” he says. “Are you going to be okay, driving my truck?”

The thought makes me nervous, but I say, “It should be fine.”

I sit in the driver’s seat, scooted all the way back to accommodate my six foot two hunk. I scoot it forward and adjust the mirrors. I’m tiny when compared to him. The key slides timidly into the ignition. With a roar, the truck comes alive and rolls out of the garage. It’s still dark outside.

“If you were the one injured, I could just carry you,” he murmurs, using me as a crutch to get to the idling car. “I’m sorry you have to do this.”

“Stop saying sorry. You’re fine.” At least, I hope you’re fine…Please, be fine.

Tuesday, 6:30AM:

“We couldn’t find anything on the x-ray,” the doctor tells us.

My husband sits in a wheelchair.

I swallow hard. My rock, my bear, my safe place…in a wheelchair. It’s almost painful.

“We’re going to schedule an MRI but it could take up to two weeks.”

My husband exhales. He hates getting MRIs.

“If your knee heals on its own, we’ll cancel the MRI,” the doctor continues. “I’m going to give you a prescription for naproxen and a muscle relaxant in the mean time. The muscle relaxant you’ll take before you go to bed. It’ll help you sleep.”

“Thank you,” my husband and I both say.

Tuesday, 7:00AM:

My husband leans on his crutches as he talks to the nurse at the front desk. I watch him from the other side of the waiting room. He nods, accepting the papers she hands him, and then starts ambling carefully toward me. I jump up and hurry over to take the papers from him.

“Thanks. I have physical therapy tomorrow,” he says.

“What time?”

“After work.”

I blink in surprise. “But you’re not going to work.”

“I might.”

“You should be resting,” I protest.

“I need to work,” he says seriously.

I bite my tongue and hold the door open for him.

Tuesday, 7:45AM:

A headache is building behind my eyes and across my forehead.

“Are you going to work?” my husband asks as we wait in the drive-thru for our breakfast.

“I don’t know. There’s technically nothing wrong with me. Now that you’re on crutches, you don’t need me as much anymore…But I am tired.”

“Do you have any vacation days left?”

“No, but I have sick days.”

“It’s up to you, hon.”

I glance at the clock in the radio. “Well, even if we got home right now and I rushed to get ready, I’d still be late. And I don’t feel like rushing.”

“So stay home with me.”

“All right. I’ll stay home.”

Tuesday, 9:00AM:

“I’ve got your drugs,” I say, setting them down over the counter. “Do you want to take anything right now?”

“I’ll take some naproxen,” he says, his eyes on the TV screen.

I wait until he’s done battling robots before I hand him the pill. He swallows it dry and smiles.

“Thanks.”

I love you.

Tuesday, 12:15PM:

I reach across from him to place a soda on the chair he’s using as an end table. “Need anything else?”

“Not right now.”

“All right. Let me know when you’re hungry.”

Tuesday, 1:30PM:

“What did you say was for lunch?”

“I have chicken thawing in the fridge,” I say. “I can fry it for you and make mashed potatoes or I can make you a salad.”

His mouth works for a moment as he processes his options. “Neither sound really appealing right now…”

I chuckle, reading his code. “Would you like to order in, love?”

He grins. “Pizza sounds amazing.”

I whip out my phone and start the order.

Tuesday, 7:00PM:

I lower the book and poke him in the side. “Hey, are you falling asleep on me?”

“No,” he says drowsily.

“I’m almost done with the chapter.”

“I’m listening,” he insists, eyes closed.

I smile and continue reading out loud from The Order of the Phoenix.

Wednesday, 4:00AM:

“I’m taking my phone off of do-not-disturb mode,” I tell him, handing over his lunch box. “If you need anything, call me, okay?”

He puts his lunch in the passenger’s seat and gives me a kiss. “All right, babe. I love you.”

“I love you too.” I close the door and step back.

Please, keep him safe, I pray as I crawl back into bed.

Wednesday, 11:00AM:

My phone buzzes on my desk and I flip it over to check the text. Finally, he answered my text from this morning.

‘Yes, babe. I did get to work okay.’ Smiley face.

I breathe out a long sigh of relief and text back. ‘Was it hard to drive?’

‘Not really.’

‘That’s good! What did you do at work?’

He tells me and I smile. I was worried they wouldn’t find anything he could do while sitting down. I can’t wait to see him.

Wednesday, 5:35PM:

“How was physical therapy?” I ask, falling into the couch beside him.

“It was all right I guess. Painful. Oh, and there are little pieces of bone floating around in my knee.”

“What? I thought the doctors couldn’t find anything on the x-ray.”

“Well, the physical therapist took another look at the x-ray and said he saw what looked like pieces of bone floating around my knee.”

I shake me head. “How…?”

“No idea. The therapist thought the bone pieces could’ve been there since I tore my ACL and had surgery to fix it.”

“Wow. Okay. So how are we going to get those out?”

“I don’t know,” he says with a shrug. “But they’re not going to do anything until I get an MRI and they can confirm that’s the only problem.”

I lean back into the couch. Lord, have mercy on my baby.

Wednesday, 7:10PM:

“What if you have to have surgery on your knee again?”

“Then we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. You just have to trust God in these situations.”

He says it so easily! I roll over to press my cheek against his chest. “What if it takes you months to recover?”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

“What if–?”

He gives my hand a squeeze. “We’ll be fine, babe.”

I shut my eyes. I want to believe, God, but I’m so afraid. Help me not to be.

Thursday, 3:55AM:

The truck’s lights disappear around the corner as I pull the trash cans out to the curb. I want to go back to sleep, but the dishes are piling up. I plan on making fried chicken and potatoes for dinner. If I put it off until I get home at 5, it won’t leave me much time to hang out with my husband before we have to go to bed again. I could make it all now, put it in the fridge, and just reheat it when I get home from work. I amble into the bedroom for my glasses. The world sharpens into focus and so does my mind. Squaring my shoulders, I march into the kitchen and start the day.

Faith, love, and hope remain

“All attempts have failed
All my heads are tails
She’s got teary eyes
I’ve got reasons why

I’m losing ground and gaining speed
I’ve lost myself or most of me
I’m headed for the final precipice

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

These days pass me by
I dream with open eyes
Nightmares haunt my days
Visions blur my nights

I’m so confused
What’s true or false?
What’s fact or fiction after all?
I feel like I’m an apparition’s pet

But you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll run until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet

If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break
If it doesn’t break your heart
It isn’t love
No, if it doesn’t break your heart
It’s not enough
It’s when you’re breaking down
With your insides coming out
That’s when you find out what your heart is made of

And you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet
Cause you haven’t lost me yet.”

-Yet by Switchfoot

(Thank you, AZLyrics.com)

I heard this song numerous times growing up, but I never truly understood what it meant. I assumed the writer was talking about a relationship of his, maybe a difficult time he and his girlfriend were having. Despite the sad tune, the words are hopeful. He sounds as if he’s reassuring his girl that no matter what happens, she’s not going to lose him. It should make me feel happy, right? Somehow, that’s not what I felt when I heard this song, and it’s still not what I feel when I hear it today. Because the words I tend to focus on are, “If it doesn’t break your heart, it isn’t love.”

Boys have broken my heart in the past and I’ve come to realize what I had with them wasn’t real love. My husband, my true love, has made mistakes and has hurt me before. But I can honestly say he’s never broken my heart. So maybe this isn’t the kind of love the song is talking about. Now that I’m older, going through a difficult time with my sister, I’m thinking I might understand what kind of love this song is talking about. (I might be totally wrong. I don’t know the artist so, obviously, I can’t confirm it with him. But the more I think about this song, the more it applies to my situation.)

No matter how much we talk, neither seems to truly understand the other. No matter how desperately we might want to fix our situation, we do more harm to each other than good. What one perceives as help or enlightenment, the other perceives as an attack on one’s character. But because we’re friends and, more importantly, family…we still love each other. We still want a relationship. And I think that’s why I can finally understand the song writer’s struggle. I can see him searching for ways to fix his situation. I can see him being so burdened by what he’s going through, so depressed because there seems to be no solution. But he knows he can’t give up hope.

I looked up the meaning of this song, and found a quote by the writer, Jon Foreman:

“The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass…Hope is a “holding on” of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There’s a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone, you breathe in your first real breath. When you’re no longer pretending to be something you’re not, you’re left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, [but] “Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love.””

(See full quote here.)

I love that Mr. Foreman tacked on that quote at the end. It’s from one of the most famous passages in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, titled the Love Chapter. It’s funny; this passage is often read at weddings and quoted to people who are in a relationship. Originally, this chapter was written by Paul to the Corinthian church, which had several different issues, the chief of them being selfishness. Paul was reminding the church that without love, none of their great works was worth anything. Because talent, skill, words, and actions can fade away in time but things like faith, hope, and love never will.

This conflict between me and my sister has gone on for a little over two years. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it will ever come to a peaceful resolution. I feel as if I’ve tried everything. People keep saying our story isn’t over, God’s work isn’t finished, and so long as the two of us keep trying to understand one another, eventually we’ll find peace. I’m sure they’re right. It’s times like these, after failing to bridge the gap yet again, that I can’t help but wonder, “Is this what it’s going to be like for the rest of our days?”

I’m tired, I’m breaking down, I feel like my insides are coming out…again. But my faith, my love, my hope, will remain.