|It's my birthday today!|
I couldn't find a picture of a cake with thirty-three candles on it. But if I was eating cake right now, it would need to have thirty-three candles on it. Because that's how old I am today.
I've been alive for thirty-three years, despite abuse and heartbreak, despite pain and suffering, despite my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I've been alive for thirty-three years despite chronic health issues. Despite chronic crises, despite bad decisions. Despite kids who bullied me through school, despite inconsiderate or outright hateful people that have come in out of my life.
I've been alive for thirty-three years because I'm strong. Because I'm resilient, because I'm persistent. Because when I turned my back on God, He followed me around and kept protecting me anyway, sometimes even from myself. I have survived thirty-three turmoil-filled years because:
- when I was young, my father did what he could to protect me. It made me feel special to him - while it lasted.
- I never had sisters - except for the year I lived in a group home as a kid. There wasn't room for me in the house with girls my own age though, and I was too mature (and too damaged, perhaps) to fit in with them, so I was placed in a house full of troubled teenaged girls. A kleptomaniac taught me to shave my legs in that house, in midnight moments stolen during the night, when we'd sneak into our shared bathroom and block the light with towels stuffed under the doors so we could talk without getting in trouble. I wish I could remember her name.
I survived because:
- I met a girl in fourth grade. We became instant friends, the two of us. It worked so well, because she was as broken as I was, as damaged. She felt just as tossed about, just as powerless, just as violated. Perhaps more so. She gave me camaraderie, a safe place in the storm that was my life, Sometimes, she still does.
- In fifth grade, a woman named Mrs Tosh lit a fire in me - the love of books. She gave me Maniac MGhee, Island of the Blue Dolphins. Hatchet. She gave me an escape my real life could never offer, a sense of secret safety that couldn't be taken away, an adventure trailer-park me could never dream of experiencing. She taught me to dream, gave me imagination. I had already been writing by that time, journals and poems and short bits of nonsense stories. But Mrs. Tosh nurtured that little matchflame into a flickering blaze ...
- Which became a raging inferno when a boy named Cornell Tulloch told me I couldn't write a book. I never would, I never could. It was silly and stupid. And although it took me much longer than I expected, his not-so-playful taunting is probably part of why I finally found what I needed within myself to actually write - and publish - my books.
I survived because:
- Although most of my family was broken and dysfunctional in pretty much every possible way, I had some family that I could turn to, that I could lean on. That I could share my secrets with, that I could run to for friendship, for protection, for conversation, for understanding. My cousin is my best friend, and some of the better days of my life are directly attributed to her place in it. I also had my grandmother, although I didn't feel close to her at all in those days. I still think she saw me as an added burden in her life due to the circumstances that were thrust upon us - but looking back now as an adult, I am gifted with understanding for what she must have been dealing with, too. Alzheimer's is taking her now, and although her body still lives, her mind is ... not hers anymore. I feel the pain of her loss deeply already - even as I celebrate the aspects of her personality that live on in me.
I survived because I met a series of boys that taught me things about myself I never even knew I needed to know:
- Scott taught me a sense of justice - to stand up for myself even when it scares me.
- Brian taught me that time passes, but love doesn't - and your first love lives with you always.
- Craig taught me the thrill of excitement.
- Jason taught me that when you won't kiss a boy (He dipped in seventh grade! Gross!) and he goes off kissing someone else, you don't have to put up with that.
- Kevin taught me how to have fun in a relationship, how to laugh together and play together. He taught me that friendship is the basis for relationship. He taught me to flirt - but also to respect myself through his respect for me.
- Jon taught me to be sure I'm ready before I make life-changing decisions - and he taught me the line upon which I will defend my boundaries ferociously. He taught me heartbreak, and the power of my own forgiveness.
- Larry taught me to let myself feel - even if it hurts. He taught me thrill, and joy, and passion ... He taught me to love basketball. He taught me heartache.
- Richard taught me ... to stand up for what I believe in. To go my own way when I have to, even if other people don't always understand. He taught me how fierce I can be as a woman, how strong I truly am, and the level of sacrifice I'm willing to make for those I love. He taught me compassion - but he taught me the fire of hatred and scorn, and the lasting power of words spoken in anger. He taught me fear of my own toxicity - he taught me caution.
- Ryan ... he taught me ... more than I want to go into here. Among other things, he taught me about my breaking point, he taught me about life at rock bottom. He taught me about digging deep and finding what it takes to keep on keeping on. He taught me strength and perseverance. He taught me about being pushed down and held back, being broken. He taught me about powerlessness.
And then there was the other one. The one that taught me I'm special, the one that made me feel beautiful, that made me feel talented, that made me want to be a better mother, a better woman, a better Christian. The one who was so unafraid to be vulnerable with me that he showed up at my door once in the middle of the night when he needed a safe place to fall. The one who allowed ME to be HIS safety. The one who was always there when I was on the ledge, when I needed to talk. The one who, ironically, gave me the strength it took in the end to break things off.
The one who I will always feel "got away."
The one who called me his Guardian Angel.
The one who told me this:
and made me feel like this:
and even this:
I survived because I am a survivor, a warrior, a fighter. And as I enter this next year of life, I intend to live it fully, in honor of - or in some cases in spite of - the influences that touched my life until this point.
And it's going to be the best year yet. I hope you'll follow along with me to watch it unfold.