Eat Your Cake

You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

Why else do you make cake? You make cake to eat, right?  So, what the hell else are you planning to do with that cake?

Seriously. Y’all.

Grace Evelyn knows cake should be eaten….

We stayed at a church for a long time.  It’s the longest we ever stayed at one church.  And we didn’t agree with everything, but we didn’t question much.  It wasn’t until the end…when we were about to move…we really started looking at whether we agreed with things being said and done in the church.  We’ve talked about this openly…The church still has a conversion program…it’s wrong…we didn’t question it enough.  If you are going to be a deacon at the church, you can’t drink.  That’s weird.  And there were other things we disagreed with…But you always heard, “God calls you to a church, and if He calls you there, you stay till He calls you out.”  Or, the sideways talk about people who leave because they “weren’t being fed”.  Or the folks who quit coming and were out living their lives on Sunday mornings…or sleeping in…How we are losing a generation because parents allow church to be an option.  And the list goes on and on…But the commentary was clear, people who leave are somehow sinful and wanting sinful things from God…like to be fed by Him…to agree with all the practices of their church …or to feel loved by their leadership…

Cake.  Dammit.  They wanted their cake and to eat it too.  We never left, to be honest.  We just moved to another city. 

The next church was similar.  Maybe more regimented.  Openly regimented. The pastor was leaving, and the talk was whether people would leave because of him.  And the talk was about being called to a church and staying till God calls you to another church.  And when folks left people talked about it.  And said side-ways things.  And the talk about being fed.  And the talk about being called.  And the talk about those who left.  The talk behind their back.  And I listened.  I hadn’t been there long enough to engage.  But the talk.  From leadership.  Ordinary leadership, but even from the pulpit. So odd to think about now.  Side bars and side notes.

Commentary on people who leave because they don’t like the music.  People who leave because they don’t like the youth program.  People who leave because they think church is created for them.  People who leave because they don’t like the pastor.  And y’all.  The list goes on and on and on.

No reckless behavior allowed.

Church people talk bad about church people who “church shop”.  Like it’s a bad thing to figure out what you want.  Church people talk bad about church people who have gone to too many churches.  Because clearly to seek the right church is not ok.  Clearly you should be called and lead and all the other holy words.  And it keeps you there. Keeps you in your seat. If you are happy in other areas of your church you stay…Because if you leave, your leadership and your friends will talk about you too.  And folks stay and stay and stay.  Leaving is a weird “sin”. 

And what if your church completely changes?  What if it grows beyond what you are comfortable?  What if they start preaching politics from the pulpit?  Or make rude comments about people from the pulpit?  Or get a new pastor you can’t stand?  Or bring in screens to project the sermon to new locations? Or the staff changes?  Or no one cares about you?  Or your leadership team is filled with assholes who talk bad about people in their church?  Or you hate the worship style?  Or you want them to quit spending money on things that don’t matter? Or you wish they built into their community?  Or they don’t believe women can preach? Or they have a conversion program? Or they suck at loving the people right in front of them?  Or they are mean?  Or they don’t know your name after all this time?  Or they take your money, but never listen to your thoughts? Or you’re tired of church?  Or you quit enjoying dragging everyone out of bed?  Or you would kill for a Saturday service?  Or you never feel like you belong?  Or you just don’t like the church…you just don’t like it…

Truth.

What if…what if…you just wanted your cake and to eat it too? 

What if you totally get and understand “No church is going to be perfect”…But you would like to LIKE it…

What if the place you are going to spend hours on Sunday is not the place you want to spend hours?  What if thinking about driving there makes you feel 900 pounds of anxiety?  And you have walked into places where you felt joy and love and grace. What if there is no reason…No real reason…you just don’t like it.

Leave.

I just wanted to say that to you today.  I wish someone had said it to me a million times over.  I wish all the millions of times I have heard leadership talking bad about people behind their backs for leaving…or talking to their congregations about staying even when you don’t like it…I wish someone had smiled (and not in a shitty way), and said, “You can leave…it’s really ok.” Y’all. Sometimes we don’t have to change a church.  We get to say, because we are not idiots, “I don’t like this, and I want to leave.”

So, let me say this…I love church. LOVE church.  I love worship songs.  I love putting my hands in the air.  I love standing next to people and crying and having people put their hands on my back.  I love not being super involved in church right now because I work full time and I have four kids…I love Sunday hugs and Sunday banter.  I love a good honest sermon. I love hearing the Bible read out loud. I love communion.  I love texting my friend, Jessica, to save me a seat. I love praying.  I love dim lighting.  I love turning around and greeting people.  I love taking too long to get to the car because I talk too much to everyone. I love it all.  In a crazy way.     

And I get to say all this because I have my cake and I am eating the fuck out of it too. 

And you can too.  You can have it too. Whatever it is you are looking for, it’s out there.  You can find it.  And you may have to leave a lot of places just to get a glimpse of it…But you know it exists.  You can feel it in your heart.  And I believe it for you too.  A place where it is truly different than all the other places.    And I’m rooting for you along the way.  And cheering you on…And saving you a big old slice of cake too.  Because cake is for eating.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you different again.

Marriage is Hard

Marriage is hard.

We say this so no one asks us more questions. 

And struggle in silence.

This has been the year I didn’t think we would make it.  This year was crushing.  There were too many things.  Too much piled on.  Too much pain. Too much revealed. Too much.  We were 20 years in, and it was all just too much.

He slept on a couch for a week this year. Not even our couch.  Just a couch. Because we couldn’t figure it out. And sleeping on couches sometimes seems like an answer.

There are moments in marriage, maybe not yours, but mine…Where you are looking at your chubby self in the mirror with your gray hair and your regular old job and wondering how you ended up here.  There are moments in marriage…at least in my marriage…where you could literally kill someone for snoring…or dishes undone…or not telling you you’re a badass 98 times a day for all the shit you make look easy.  There are moments in this house when you realize one of us has a glass overflowing, and the other doesn’t have a glass on the table.  And instead of handing your person a glass, you give them the finger because fuck them for not getting over their own shit.  Maybe this is just me.

“Are we going to make it?” And we mostly answered, “I don’t know.”  

You imagine yourself single.  You imagine yourself dating.  You imagine moving home.  You imagine trying to make it all work without them.  And you can’t.  And you feel lonely in a house full of people.  And maybe a little trapped in your life too.  And you wonder how you ended up here.  And you wonder if anyone else ever feels this way.

We sleep with a 6-year-old and two dogs. Sex has been handed over to sleep.  We vowed we would never be this couple.  

I read a story a decade or more ago.  A doctor realized he never spent time with his kids or wife.  All he did was work.  The kids were in middle school and he barely knew them.  So, he made a decision.  Pulled everyone out of school.  Bought everyone bikes.  And they biked across the country.  The doctor, his wife, his kids.  They did this for a solid year.  Because they were important to him.  And important people require drastic measures.  Because they are worth it. 

We planned a vacation.  Our first kid free vacation since before kids.  It was our worst year. And we just decided to follow through. Which seemed crazy. Because marriage is so fucking hard.  And the fights had gotten too loud.  And the kids had started asking if we were getting divorced.  And we both started to really wonder if we were getting divorced.  Even the dogs seemed to wonder. And we were left with just getting by…just walking…just breathing…and none of it felt like what we signed up for…

And this trip, it was meant to save a ship that had gotten really normal…really usual…like other old worn out ships…the ships we swore we would never be…

And I can tell you the moment we got on a plane to Mexico.  The air shifted.  The moment we landed, it felt lighter.  Pulling up to our hotel.  The all-inclusive-awesomeness-paid-for-through-the-Costco-layaway-plan. Champagne. The ocean air. Music playing.  Sun burned people smiling everywhere with drinks in their hands and hope in their eyes.  And here we were…I could almost feel the old us.

We spent four days in paradise.  Eating and drinking and talking and laughing and napping and staying up till 3am and meeting folks and walking around barefoot and holding hands a lot…talking…talking about us…talking about how good we were together…talking about our kids and how much we loved our life…laughing till we cried…and crying because of all the hard moments we had lived through…Together…It was still there.  It was still right there.

Marriage is hard means sometimes you call your husband a dick.  Marriage is hard means sometimes you know everyone’s favorite sandwich, shampoo, pair of socks, toothpaste, the way they like their toast or coffee or water…but you don’t know your own anymore.  Marriage is hard means there are weeks where all you will do is drive in circles from 3pm till 9pm and wake up and go to work and see each other in the driveway or the hallway and hold hands in the bedroom as you fall asleep to Netflix.  Marriage is hard means you can barely believe this is your life, and you just keep choosing it and trying to get to a good place when you can.  Marriage is hard. It’s really really really hard. And finances and kids and backgrounds and jobs and life make it even harder…And it’s ok to say all of this because everyone, I’m pretty sure, is living this too. 

The hope and the prayer is not to live this all the time…Right?  Because marriage is hard, really, if I were super honest, just means, we have lost all connection to each other.  Everything else has gotten in the way.  Everything and everyone else has taken priority.  And I am hurt and you are hurt.  And it feels like you don’t care.  And I am so sad about all the things that no one else knows except for me and you.  The things that happen and only your person knows and feels it as tremendously as you.  And the moments when life kicked you in the teeth and your person was there…but they were kicked too…and you’re broken by life and 20 years pass.

But here is the deal.  Y’all. Reconnect.  I wish we had done this 20 years ago. I wish we had done this FOR 20 years. I wish we had planned a million tiny reconnections on our front porch swing or our hammock or our patio or anyplace really…I wish we had seen reconnection staring us in the face in all the moments we chose TV over each other…sleep over each other…hurry over each other…and busy over this person we chose to spend our life with…Reconnect.  It actually doesn’t take Mexico to get there.

Reconnecting means pushing pause.  Reconnecting means time.  Reconnecting means saying I’m sorry a lot.  And putting down phones.  And maybe taking up a hobby together.  Or going to the grocery store together.  Or drinking coffee together each morning.  Or having tequila together at 9pm on the worst days of your life.  Or going to a concert together. Even if it’s a band concert for your kids and you sit together and kiss and hold hands in a high school auditorium.  Reconnect. If I was totally honest, under all the heartache, I just missed us. The real us. The us I knew was somewhere in both of us.

To be seen and loved and known.  To see.  To love.  To know.  See our pain.  Love us through it.  Know our most secret heartaches.  And do the dishes here and there. And try to stop snoring.  And I’ll try to stop leaving my shoes everywhere. And I’ll try to leave the dishes till tomorrow if it means a moment with you.

We went to Mexico. To begin again. We went with half a shred of hope and a million good memories which took place a million lifetimes ago.  We went and found out we loved each other.  We even liked each other.  We were still the life of each other’s party.  We were still a damn good time and sloppy drunks and not too old to stay up all night.  We found out that we still like to kiss like they do in the movies.  And it all can pretty much fall part, but not us.  We matter too much. 

Marriage is hard y’all.

But today, I am believing for you.  I’m believing for me too.  I’m believing for all of us on our knees and digging in our heels and looking at wedding photos and wondering where those two kids have gone…I’m believing for all of us deciding to put our foot down and ask for help.  I’m believing for all of us who can’t believe anymore.  And, just so you know, we argued this morning over what time to pick up a bed for our 6 year old…we also made up…and life went on and on and on…and we kissed a little too.

This is for Us…

I was asked a question this past year… I have been asked this a million times…maybe you have too…Maybe not…

“Who are your heroes?” (And I can’t remember who the hell asked me this question…But I’m sure they were desperate or in a horrible lull in conversation to have thrown this out there…)

I am positive I have answered this same question countless times.  In essays on tests.  In history classes.  At dinner parties more pretentious than fun.  In card games with my kids.  Who are your heroes? 

And I did what we do…maybe not you, but me…I spouted off important folks…The ones who have left a real mark…Maybe threw in a parent or family member…

Martin Luther King.  Erma Bombeck.  Gloria Steinem.  Dolly Parton. Joni Mitchell.  Jimmy Carter. Bono. My mom. My dad. Jesus (Always the answer).

And if I had time, I might have thrown in some more intellectual, scholarly names and some more off brand clever characters, but still famous heroes. The noteworthy.  Those are the heroes, right?  Those are the people we hang on to their stories.  Those are the people we model our lives after.  Those are the people worthy of quotes on Facebook and blog posts and posters in our rooms and books on our shelves. 

But it stuck with me.  Who are my heroes?  Who do I get excited hearing their stories over and over?  Whose words keep me going? Who hands me hope?  Whose life gives me a heaping spoonful of please don’t give up?  Who are my heroes?

And it’s you. Just you. It’s us really.

It is all us ordinary people with ordinary stories. The people I love. The stories I know. The people living the real, ordinary, daily life most of us pretend we aren’t living. So, today, this post is for you…I see you…I am you…This is for us…

This is for all of us ordinary people trying to wrap our head around the bills we can’t pay, and the NSF fees we know are coming, and we are smiling at our kids and we are dying inside.  This is for those of us who can’t figure out how to buy lunch crap for school lunches…Packing leftovers and reusing water bottles attempting to make it till payday.  This is for all the moms and dads who put socks and underwear and toothbrushes that spin on Christmas lists because dammit we are flat broke and it just had to wait till Christmas.  This is for those of us making 88 New Year’s Resolutions.  To eat better. Exercise more. Lose the weight. Feel better. Be better. And this is the year we are really going to do it.  And we have 900 pounds of hope and good intentions to get us through this year.  And this is for all the folks who are headed in a new direction today.  Leaving old ways behind.  Quitting smoking because we can’t afford it.  Quitting a relationship because it is too costly for our kids.  Quitting a church because it never looked like Jesus.  Quitting a job because it is killing us.  Quitting a mindset of hating ourselves because we are created by God Almighty and He does not fail.  And we are His people. And we believe this deep deep down.  This is for those of us signing up for dating apps today.  Getting a new pet.  Trying to be less lonely.  Putting ourselves back out there.  Believing in love again.  And this is for those of us who are happy with the heat in our home.  The water coming out of faucets.  The generic food in our pantries. Because we can tell you all the stories about praying for the things we now take for granted.  This is for all the people missing their people.  All the people who couldn’t make it, or didn’t have the energy, or weren’t invited home for the holidays.  The people holding their heads up high trying to remind themselves they don’t have to take the bullshit anymore…and you still miss your crazy family…because it is all you know…This is for you.  You are worth so much more than the crazy.  You are worth love.  This is for everyone who is digging out of depression today.  For everyone calling a friend.  This is for everyone who looks to the left and to the right and sees all the ordinary people you can’t get enough of…who may never get scholarships or be on TV or have Tshirts with their pictures on them…But you, you see them and tell their stories and share their pictures and celebrate their victories and hug them through their disappointments and think every single day you are the luckiest person just to know the ordinary folks God gave you to live life with.  Y’all.  This is for the people living through the hard shit.  Doing the hard time in counseling sessions because they want to heal…to get better…to live better.  This is for the people with secrets so big and so deep they can’t begin to whisper them. And the people who live life praying for the secrets to go away.  This is for all us ordinary people who are swearing today to wake up a little earlier, hug people a little tighter, live life a little fuller because we saw the life of an ordinary person…who loved us so well…and we will live for them…because we watched this year take them…And we will honor them, with every last ordinary ounce we have in us. This is for us.  All of us ordinary amazing people. I am you. I see you. I believe in you.  And Jesus does too. Y’all. This is for us.

You are my heroes.

Amen.

You Can Walk Away…

Yesterday I told Corey (my husband of almost 20 years) we needed to finish some projects before starting more…This was a trigger for him. I hate that word. It almost caused an enormous argument. We sat outside and talked a bunch…communicated a bunch…worked on US a bunch…in our back yard over coffee…This is marriage y’all. This is the story of being married to someone with childhood abuse and trauma. And I have permission to write this because maybe it’s your story too.

My husband is a survivor of child abuse at the hands of someone meant to love him. My husband held this secret for years and years and years. There are people who know. There are people who pretend they don’t. There are people who turned their back because they didn’t want to make other adults uncomfortable…didn’t want to rock the boat…didn’t want to step in or step up…This is how child abuse can continue…This is the story of how two little boys were abused by their step father. And no one did a damn thing.

Corey Hooks has put a wall around his family. To keep child abusers out. A whole shit ton of people think Corey is an asshole for this…People have stopped him in the halls of church or written letters asking him to tear down the walls he has painstakingly put in place. They have talked about forgiveness and grandparents and time being short…But what they don’t ever talk about is two little boys who had the living daylights beat out of them and were humiliated time and again in the name of punishment or discipline or how crappy of kids they were.

These folks don’t talk about kids being forced to eat molded lunches or a shot gun being held to a 15 year old’s head. They don’t talk about Christmas presents for the “real” kids versus the “step” kids. They don’t talk about little boys being punched in the face during family dinners, or beat up for a stick being in the yard. They don’t talk about kids getting the courage to call CPS or spitting loogies in their step dad’s shoes because they couldn’t think of any other way to get back at the man who abused them…or the people who said, and still say, they deserved it.

In 2009, after being married ten years, my husband stood in the kitchen and told me the whole truth. The truth about shot guns and secret tapes of women undressing for “Glamour Shot” photos taken out of their house…of beatings and living life afraid and being told you deserved it. And my husband, started to make sense. My husband, who has the world’s lowest self esteem and had zero goals because he never imagined to live past 20…My husband, who had been an honor student and ended up dropping out of high school twice…My husband…This sweet sweet man with explosions over the weirdest things…Decided to let his guard down and tell the truth and confront his family…

The question was simple:

Are you waiting for your abuser to die in order for you to live?

No.

Corey Hooks was going to live. Right now. With all his precious people still ok…

Over the last ten years, I have watched this man wrestle from the inside. Wrestle with the image of God the Father…Wrestle with who he is as a husband and a Daddy …who can he find as a role model…who can he follow…who will lead The Hooks Family of Buda, TX?

A year ago, Corey started counseling. Counseling just for him and all his past pain. Counseling for the people who tell him he should invite his abuser back into his life and the lives of his children. Counseling for all the people who think and say he deserved abuse. For all the disguises inside a church where abusers can hide…Give them an upstanding family…Give them a sob story with two step children…Give people the story they need, and they will buy it, no questions asked.

I am married to a man who is terrified of being like his step father or treating his kids like he was treated or picking a favorite or hurting them or hurting me or ruining the people God entrusted him to love…And love has so many conditions in his heart…He is not good enough…He is unloved…He deserves hurt and pain and the worst life ever because y’all, people showed him he deserved hurt and pain and the worst life ever.

When you are an adult who abuses children, you simply write them a script they cannot get out of…You simply tell all the other adults present that these two children…these two little boys…they are out of control…they need harsh discipline…paint the picture of the godly step father who saved a single mom and her boys…paint the picture and the world buys it…

Maybe we didn’t build a wall. Maybe we just walked away.

I live in a house with my husband and my four children. There aren’t many demons living here anymore. We work hard to keep it that way. If you are reading this tonight and you are crumbling under the weight of childhood abuse and still hold the door open for your abuser…Hear me tonight, you can walk away. You can run away. You can plug your ears to the scores of people yelling from your past that you are an asshole and ruining your family.

YOU CAN SAVE YOURSELF. YOU ARE WORTH SAVING.

My husband is fond of pointing out all the things we do to keep our children safe. Car seats. Helmets. Cameras on doorbells. Video baby monitors. Software on computers. Sports gear. Night lights. Sunscreen. Bug spray. The list is good and it goes on and on. We love our kids, right?

But we will invite abusers inside our home again and again in the name of family…

If this speaks to you tonight, Corey and I are standing with you. If this speaks to you tonight and you feel the nudge to go to counseling. Go. You matter. You really really matter. A child should never be hurt. There is no exception to this.

You are not alone. You never were. I promise.

And your story is not over either.

My Somedays Have Arrived…

My somedays have arrived.

I didn’t expect them to hit so hard.

But it feels like they are this year. And my somedays have arrived. Maybe yours have too.

It seems like just yesterday I walked into Kindergarten with Jake. He starts high school tomorrow. And y’all. I am almost beside myself. I cried tonight on the way home from Wal Mart after getting school supplies with my oldest kiddo…the list is so different…no crayons…no markers…And the time has gone by so fast.

People told me…mostly older moms…you’ll miss these days when they’re gone. And I wanted to give them the middle finger while I waded through three kids in diapers…sippy cups…sleepless nights…naptime that felt like some sort of twisted game of how-crazy-can-we-make-mom-before-she-cries…pull ups that cost an arm and a leg…swim diapers that cost even more…formula…flash cards…learning how to read…and don’t even talk to me about potty training…I’d rather kill myself twice than ever do any of that again…

But come on y’all. I’d take one more day of super hero pajamas. One more night of making up stories and Uno and Go Fish and watching Veggie Tales (damn you Veggie Tales). I’d gladly take back a moment of patting my little girl’s bottom till she fell asleep…or rubbing Jude’s back…or playing with Jake’s ears…because I knew all the secrets to getting my babies back to bed. I would sell my soul to the devil himself just to have an hour of my favorite playgroup. The days when a picnic was paradise and a playdate was the answer to every prayer. I would carry those babies in that stupid baby bjorn for all it is worth…Y’all. My somedays arrived. And I am a mess.

Tomorrow my youngest goes to Kindergarten. My daughter goes to Middle School. My middle boy  is an 8th grader. And my oldest kid is in High School. And the mixture of pride and pain I feel at every turn is more than I can put into words. Because there are no words to describe what it feels like to watch your little people become people …part of all the world not just your world…and do it way better than you ever hoped or imagined…

Dammit older moms.

I remember so many moments like they were yesterday. I remember first pigtails. First words. First steps. First time I cleaned out a carseat covered in diarrhea. First time I screamed at my husband for sleeping through a crying baby. First choir concerts. First soccer games. First time they wanted to marry someone other than me. First recitals. First bike rides. First days of school. First time reading to a class of little people where my baby was so dang proud I was there…

Y’all. And the lasts. They were gone in the blink of an eye. The last time they held my hand on a field trip. The last time my words were all they needed. The last time a kiss could heal all the hurts in the world, or a hug could ease all the pain. The last time sleeping in my bed was the best thing ever. The last time I buckled them into their seat…The last time I tied their shoes…held a Kleenex to their nose…brushed their hair…rebrushed their teeth…put cough syrup in a spoon and prayed it into their mouths…The lasts came and went without a single celebration or salutation…Until days like today when you catch your breath because you realize those moments have gone…

So, tonight let me encourage you, moms and dads and grandparents and caregivers who are in the weeds with little ones. We see you, us older moms, and we smile from ear to ear. We are cheering you on from the check out lanes of Target as you work your ass off to simply get a few items on a conveyor belt…We see you, us older moms, and we are standing with you as you force a stiffened toddler with all that is in you into their god forsaken carseat. We see you, and our hands are over our hearts in an instant when little voices sing little songs for the millionth time…we know you hate that damn song…but man, we would kill to hear it sung just one more time. Oh y’all. I miss baby feet and baby toes and baby fingers holding mine. You will too. No, not today. But when that little person becomes a young man or woman before your very eyes…I promise you…these crazy horrible days of too many babies will become memories way too fast.

And for all us older moms who are breaking down every morning with Facebook Timehop and pictures of little faces with barely any teeth…you will see me puffy eyed tomorrow. Maybe all week. Maybe all year. Crying at it all. I can’t get over how much I love these people. I don’t know how I lucked out to get this wonderful group of ordinary assholes to call me mom…

For all of us facing our somedays…someday they will go to kindergarten…someday they will go to middle school…someday they will go to high school…someday…

I am toasting us all tonight as I scroll through a million memories.

These are the good old days.