I sit down at my computer to begin writing and my notifications begin popping up. There it is, your birthday. It’s not that I would ever in my lifetime forget your birthday, not unless I also forgot mine. Because by some strange coincidence we were born on the same day, so many years apart. Today, my computer tells me, you will be 65.
But you won’t.
Because what my computer doesn’t know is that you’ve been gone now for two years. My computer doesn’t know how aggressive your skin cancer was. My computer doesn’t know that we stayed up late with you in your last days, that we stood over you hand in hand praying, that we whispered into your ear “it’s okay, now, let go.”
My computer doesn’t know the agony we felt those February days, nor the pain we processed through in the months to follow, nor the pain that we still process today, it strikes at the strangest moments, and I find myself missing you like crazy. It doesn’t know that I was pregnant with my daughter as we paddled out in Turtle Bay on our joint birthday. We released your ashes into the swell. We said one final good-bye. After I sat on the shower floor scrubbing sand off my feet and out of the coral induced wound on my heel weeping.
That day was my birthday, our birthday. And it was the first birthday that I couldn’t pick up the phone and dial you expecting the hear “Happy Birthday Rachie” on the line.
My computer doesn’t know that we spent our last birthday together. We had dinner in San Diego and you ominously said “well I made it another year.” I remember the face you made, the way you rolled your eyes. Something was off, and even though you hadn’t been diagnosised yet, I think you knew.
You knew. You knew we would never paddle out again, nor holler your joyous “yippy” as you snatched the wave I’d been waiting for. The grin on your face from ear to ear. I think you knew it would be quick, even through you didn’t want to admit it. I remember the day I came to visit you after you were diagnosed, you tried so hard to be you, shining blue eyes, but they filled with tears as you told me that if you died you had lived a good life, you had loved well, and been loved well.
Isn’t that what really matters? To love well, to be loved well?
My computer doesn’t know what love is. It doesn’t know how deep our bond was. It doesn’t know that I regret to this day not putting you into the car and driving you to the ocean, but you were so sick, in so much pain. We couldn’t move you. I know that you don’t want me to hold on to this. I know it. You know it. But my computer doesn’t.
My computer does know, however, to remind me to wish you a happy birthday, an alarm I’ll never remove as just seeing your name makes me feel good, sad, but good. So today, a happy day, a birth day, I receive phone calls and cards, well wishes and blessings and I think of the gift you gave me, the important one, the love. The love that you didn’t owe me, but you gave so freely. The friendship, the long conversations, the smoothie dates, and the chopstick lessons. You were one of my best friends, in my heart you’ll always be.
No one told me about The Hormones. The Hormones, these strangers that come and take residence in your body and mind during pregnancy. I liken them to The Jones or Smiths. Houseguests that come to stay for a while. Typically I love houseguests, they come we share meals and long conversations, we enjoy each other’s company, and then, after a few days they leave just as quickly as they came. But The Hormones, they aren’t your typical houseguest, oh no, The Hormones are the world’s worst houseguest. When you’re having a quiet moment they jumble your thoughts. A much needed conversation, they jumble your words. On a hot summers day they crank the heat higher. They do strange things to your body as well, mysteriously causing some areas to inflate and others deflate. There seems no rhyme or reason.
And all the while you do everything you can to keep these houseguests in check, knowing full well that they’ve come for a long visit.
I didn’t realize these “guests” were at my house. How silly of me not to realize. There was a life growing in my body, shouldn’t I have known?!
He plated dinner. Our lovely basket weave plates. A wedding gift. We were deep in discussion. Without even realizing our discussion was turning into something else, I felt my body warm, boil, my brain get hot, and suddenly I had no words, they wouldn’t come out. I heard a shrill, which I know now was my own voice, as I watched my plate filled with food fly across the kitchen and smash to pieces on the floor.
I looked at the plate, looked at my husband, and ran to our room, hurling myself upon the bed weeping for no logical reason.
He cleaned up the shattered plate and food, came into the room and scratched my crazy back.
And this is how it was while The Hormones came to visit.
We got in the car and went to our favorite coffee shop. This was us before parenthood, two creatures bopping from coffee shop to coffee shop in search of the perfect brew, atmosphere, comfy chair. We owned and read these things bound with glue called books. We sat in long silences.
These days were coming to a quick end. My body got bigger and ached. Summer to Fall, Fall to Winter, and on a snowy day in February we became parents.
I foolishly expected our houseguests to pack up and leave, but each night as I woke drenched in sweat was reminded of their presence. For Father’s Day I wanted to decorate my husband’s office, but the store didn’t have the shelf I was looking for. I wept stupidly in the parking lot. Over a shelf. I had no control.
I’ve shared this before and feel it’s important to keep sharing: That while those unwanted houseguests wanted to rob the joy of my first child, while they played tricks on my body telling it it wasn’t hungry and that I didn’t need to eat, while I began wasting away body and mind, while everything felt like it was falling apart, in the midst of it all, I stopped and I got help.
Help looks different for everyone. My help came in the form of friends to watch my son so I could sleep. It came in the form of long talks with trusted family members. It came in the form of a holistic vitamin consultant. And it came in the form of a little tiny pill that help ease my anxiety and calm my nerves.
I understand that there has been, and can be, a great deal of stigma assigned to this last form of “help.” I’ve heard it can be particularly bad within the walls of the church. Fortunately for me, this was not my experience. I wasn’t met with judgement or destain. In fact, those who knew what I was going through held my head above water and protected me.
As we meet these struggles head on, as we fight for the health of our bodies, minds, souls, it is particularly important not to forge the path alone. If you find yourself here, whether the result of postpartum, change of life, anxiety, or if the weight of life just seems to much to bear, seek help, seek safe people, seek the right solutions for you personally. It looks different for all of us, but for all our uniqueness we have the commonality of need for community. Do not go it alone. You are not alone.
I’ve noticed a trend in pop culture. I don’t know maybe it’s not a trend, maybe I’m just paying attention to it for the first time. I turn on the radio and hear a fight song, flip on the TV and see Shield Maidens and Mother’s of Dragons. In the bookstore there are girls with swords and huntresses with crossbows. Everywhere I look there are warriors, Katniss’ and Khaleesi’s.
As if pop-culture is screaming “I am woman! Hear me roar!”
In Christian music female vocalists are singing “Make Me Brave” and female authors like Sarah Bessey and Lisa Bevere are penning titles like Jesus Feminist and Lioness Arising.
I look at this trend, and again, maybe it’s been here longer than I realized, maybe I’m late to the party, but nevertheless, I look at this trend and think, “well, it’s about time.”
It’s about time that women openly talk about their strength a value, not just from a worldly perspective but also an eternal. We are living in a day in age where convicted rapists can walk away with a 6-month sentence, whereas in some states non-violent criminals are serving a life-sentence for their third offense. We live in a day in age where people are being trafficked, where women and children are being sold as a commodity, where every single young woman I know has at least one story of being assaulted, aggressed, or at very least been the recipient of unwanted advances. I have friends that have been raped, attacked, and stalked.
I go down my own list:
The time a stranger grabbed my butt as I walked through a bookstore.
The flasher that waited in the stairwell as I made my way to work revealing himself to me and my female colleagues.
The stalker that left notes on my car and front door.
The creeper that photographed me changing out of my wetsuit at the beach.
The man that rubbed pizza all over my car for reasons beyond my comprehension.
My “assaults” aren’t even that bad in comparison to the stories I’ve heard and keep hearing. And I’m raising a daughter in this world!?! I hate thinking that I need to prepare her for this. I hate knowing that someone someday will call her a slut or worse. It makes me sick to think that someday someone will probably try to take advantage of her.
When I was a teenager I used to have this reoccurring dream. I’ve being chased, hunted. I’m in a forest, I’m keeping low, paying attention to the snapping of twigs and the sounds on footsteps. I look at my hands and they are tightly gripping a sword. I step out of the thicket and meet my foe head on.
I like this dream. It makes me feel strong, stronger than my 5’2″ frame really is, stronger in a way of thinking, strength of heart; Lion-hearted. The dream gives me solace when in doubt, when struggling with fear that can so easily entangle me, when my heart is pounding, when I hear those thumps in the night. I think of the Lion-hearted girl in my dreams.
I’d like to think that we are becoming more civilized. That race and gender equality is just a given. That we are ALL equal and valuable. Amid all the black lives matter, blue lives matter, gay lives matter, there is the more important ALL lives matter. If you are alive, if there is air in your lungs and a beat in your heart you matter, you are precious, you are valuable, you deserve love, you deserve compassion.
I keep waiting to see this practiced and played-out. The importance of love and equality are talked about a lot, but you need not look much further than a political rally too see just how nasty we can get. So I can’t help but beg the question, are we improving? Or is sexism, racism, elitism just as bad as ever, but hiding under the surface of polished smiles and suburban life, for fear of not being PC.
As I prepare my children for the world, I recognize the probability that my daughter will need to protect herself with the ferocity of a shield maiden, I recognize that my son too will need to be lion-hearted. I pray that they will both have the fortitude to stand up for the oppressed, the stare inequality head on and say “not on my watch”, that they will be strong and yet compassionate and kind. Come what may, I hope and pray they are prepared, that I am prepared.
There he was, this tall ginger with watery blue eyes. He was with a friend of a friend and so we invited him to sit. I got butterflies in my stomach and felt a little nervous. Who was this guy and why was he making my palms sweat? I covered up my anxiety with banter and sarcasm. I’ve since been told that sarcasm is just a mask covering up true feelings, as it applies to that evening I agree.
The day was done and it was time to get on with things, so without exchanging numbers or promises to meet again I left. That was it, I may never see him again, our paths may never again cross.
But then they did.
There he was in the cafeteria line at his university. My sister was a student there, and I had stopped by to visit her. We again invited him to join us, and again I left without his number or hope of a third encounter. A few weeks later my sister called me with an awkward request.
“Hey, remember that ginger from Starbucks?”
“Can you go out with him for me?”
His school had this fun mixer for it’s students in the Fall called G.Y.R.A.D. or Get Your Roommate a Date, both my sister and this tall drink of water were currently living on campus, so our mutual friend decided to set them up for the party but fortunately for me, my sister was unavailable and asked me to stand in for her. I had already graduated from college and was working in my field but she figured what’s one Douglass sister for another.
I coolly agreed, heart racing, palms sweating. I think about it, time and again, how if she had of been available how she could be married to my husband!
He picked me up in his navy blue Toyota camry. It had leather seats and wood trim, I was positive this “backpack boy” (my derogatory term for students who I refused to date although I’d only had my diploma for three months) was driving his mom’s car. I snickered secretly, “man he’s trying to impress me.”
I remember teasing him about it, only to discover that it was in fact his car. The night went…strangely. It wasn’t an uber romantic setting for a first date, in fact it was pretty awkward. Here I was at a college party, for on-campus students with a guy I barely knew at a school I didn’t even attend.
After the party he invited me to hang out with some friends of his at a restaurant he worked at. He introduced me to his best friend—making things even stranger—because I recognized him from another party where he had hit on a friend of mine, something he denies to this day.
Things were not going well.
And yet I felt this strange affinity for this man/guy/student (I didn’t really know how to classify him). He dropped me off at home, we said our good-nights and I was pretty sure it was good-bye forever. But then he called and invited me out again and again. Suddenly we were dating.
The whole thing was so strange and surreal to me. This guy was like no one I’d ever dated. He was a “good Christian guy” but not in the cliché ways that I’d experienced. Spoiler alert, although I was raised in a Christian home by Christian parent’s circumstances in my life caused me to rebel from my faith. I spent a lot time in my early twenties at the bottom of a shot glass in the company of men I can hardly recall looking for the affirmations I thought I needed.
It was all a big lie. I came to the end of myself my senior year of college. I saw myself for what and who I was, I saw myself broken but redeemable. I spent a lot of time alone, praying, writing, and healing.
Then I met this “Christian guy” he was super cute and charming. He asked me out, twice. And stood me up, twice. He gave me some sort of excuse like “I can’t date you because God told me.”
Oh that line burned so deep. I hadn’t even told him about how dirty I was. How broken I was. And how I’d never measure up. How did he know?
I almost started believing the lie again. “You’ll never be good enough. Clean enough. Pure enough.”
So, as I continued seeing this “good Christian guy” I slowly began unraveling, I knew that at some point he’d want to get to know me deeper. And at some point I’d have to tell me about my life, the thought of that was beyond terrifying. I nearly talked myself out of dating him. “Once he finds out,” I told myself “he’ll run for the hills and there I’ll be, alone again.”
But then it happened. Slowly, over months, we’d had thirty-some-odd dates and he hadn’t so much as tried to kiss me, and I was really starting to think this guy was a complete loon. I was so jaded and raw that I couldn’t see it for what it was. He was actually taking the time to get to know me, and not just the surface me, the deep raw and real me. I don’t think anyone I had ever dated had done that for me before. It was a gift, that I almost didn’t know what to do with.
Now before you all go comparing other men to my husband or putting him up on a pedestal let’s talk about his story: Kile grew up in a non-religious household, his parents divorced when he was young and he took his fathers stance on God: There isn’t one. In High School he began playing water polo with a pretty incredible group of Christian guys, who over time they began influencing him. This began a journey of searching and seeking which eventually led him to Christ. When I met him, he hadn’t been a Christian for long, he had just dropped all of his classes at another university and on faith enrolled at Hope International University with a declared major of Biblical studies. He didn’t really know what being a “good Christian guy” really looked like, but he modeled what he had seen from his friends. Although we rarely get to see this group of guys now, I will always be thankful for them and the role they played in his life.
Before I knew it I was meeting his mother. I could write a whole book about this woman, but for now will just say that I love her dearly and will leave it at that. Not long after that meeting my world fell apart. It was 2008 I was working as a copy editor for a magazine publishing company, as the economy fell apart so did my industry. I returned from lunch one afternoon with my colleagues only to discover that we were all locked out of our computers. Within minutes our senior editor called us into her office and one-by-one laid my whole off. It was devastating and defeating.
Even then my beau wasn’t rocked. His attraction to me had nothing to do with my job or professional identity. He wanted me. What a relief. Six months later he put a ring on my finger and asked me to spend the rest of my life with him. Without hesitation I agreed, and that my dear friends is where the fairy-tale ended and my real life began.
You see, it’s not that we were doomed from the start or that I’m disillusioned into thinking that we won’t face tremendous battles together in the future, it’s more that we continue to experience, endure and outlast things of this earth and other worldly. It’s not because we’re so special and unique that I write this, no actually it’s because we’re pretty normal, but I can’t help but give word to our experience and give praise to God and all of the people that have nurtured, loved on, and prayed over us. For without God’s perfect love, deep forgiveness and true compassion we probably wouldn’t have made it past the honeymoon.
So, this is the beginning of our story. Tune back in to read more. May you laugh at our silliness, find encouragement, and know that God loves you and your marriage, and if you’re willing to let Him take the reigns He can heal all of those hurts, all of that heartbreak, and make you and your spouse a shining example of His love.
My daughter was born with a head full of red hair. My sister-in-law took it upon herself to nickname her “the brave”. A name that I think suits her perfectly. She’s 15-months-old and fearless beyond imagine. She terrifies me with her antics. She has absolutely zero concept of fear, which for me as a parent is both challenging and amazing to watch. If I’d let her she’d run straight into the street, swimming pool, or crowd full of strangers. I wish I could be more like her, without fear, without knowledge of fear.
Unfortunately, I am all too aware of the dangers around me. Since I was a little girl I’ve struggled with being afraid. As a child I’d have nightmares that something bad had happened to my mommy. I’d lay in bed in our Pomona home waiting for her to come home from her shift at Nordstrom. When she’d get ready for work I’d sulk or cry at her feet. I still remember those evenings fragranced with the scent of White Shoulders.
As a teenager learning to drive I remember gripping the steering wheel, palms sweaty. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was so afraid. My mom gave me Philippians 4:13 to repeat. It became my battle cry. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…”
I get on the plane. I speak in front of people. I move to a new country with a language I don’t speak. I give birth. I undergo a C-section. I entrust my children to babysitters and teachers. I hold the hand of the dying. I leave the house when the world just seems too scary, horrifying. “I can do all things…” I say it over and over, sometimes weeping, but facing whatever it is that scares me nonetheless.
This week as I reflect on the tragedy, the horrific act of terror in Orlando, I think of one particular story that has emerged. The story of Brenda Lee Marquez McCool the mother who used her body as a shield protecting her son. I read her story and wept. I wept like I wept when I read the story of Victoria Soto, a school teacher at Sandy Hook, who threw herself between bullets and her students in an act of heroism.
I think of these women, and know that there are so many more stories like this, stories of men and women who put themselves in harms way, who lose their lives as a sacrifice for their children, their students, their neighbors, their friends. These people are fierce, they are heroes, they are examples of raw unfiltered love.
May we ALL be like this. Oh in this season of politics and warfare. In the midst of trials and terrorism can we be the fierce? Can we stop with the divisiveness, can we stop looking at our differences and start looking at our similarities? Can we now start loving?