Faith

choosing love over fear

It took years to admit to myself. It took another year to say it out loud. It took another few months to make the appointment. But I knew it had to be done. The shame almost won, but my love for my family overcame. A month later I was sitting on a couch, in front of a stranger, who I would share every single thing I could remember about my life that would be of any significance (and, let’s be real, probably a lot that wasn’t of all that much significance…I have been known to verbally meander from time to time). I wasn’t sure if I was suppose to lay down or sit. What’s the etiquette here? I never expected to be here. Therapy? I literally had to imagine Jesus sitting beside me making me say what needed to be said. So, I did. I spoke all the words. I knew I needed to say everything in the first meeting so the wound could begin to heal. How long could one person live with an open wound? Perhaps their entire life? Some do, I suppose. But do they thrive? Or do they merely survive? Is that what we are meant for? With an open wound isn’t the pain so fresh that it makes joy nearly impossible? Bandaids weren’t meant to help forever. They eventually come off with enough pressure.

The abuse would begin as soon as my eyes would open. “I hate you!” “You are never going to be the mother you thought you’d be.” “It’s too hard to love you.” “You’re ruining everything.” “You’re going to lose it all.” “No one thinks about you.” “Maybe God never intended for you to be a mother?” “You have everything, but you don’t deserve it.” “Don’t you appreciate this gift?” “You can’t tell anyone…they’ll just think you’re crazy.” “If you do tell, you really will lose everything.” “What’s wrong with you?” “You aren’t good at anything.” The bully couldn’t be avoided. There was no running, hiding, fighting back. The bully was…me. Me…the one who has so much to be joyful for. Me…the one who is so insanely grateful. Me…the one who is all about love and being imperfect. Me…who knows she is loved. Me…with a great group of friends. Me…full of grace…for everyone else. My very own thoughts. Born out of pain. Hidden with brightly colored bandaids. Brought back to light with the pressure of becoming a new mom and feeling like a failure in all the things. I mourned the mother I thought I would be. I wasn’t good enough. I mourned the wife I thought I would be. I wasn’t good enough. I mourned the human I thought I would be. I wasn’t good enough. I mourned the photographer and business owner I thought I would be. I wasn’t good enough. I mourned the friend/daughter/sister I thought I would be. I wasn’t good enough. Lost. Without an identity. Afraid. Anxious. Depressed. Constant overwhelm. Feeling like an “other”…alone.

Sometimes I would share just a bit of my feelings and hear…“You’re JUST too hard on yourself.” “Well, I choose JOY.” “I focus on the positive side of life.” Gosh…why couldn’t I just CHOOSE joy? Why couldn’t I JUST be easier on myself? Why was I thinking so negatively? That’s not me. I’ve fought too much hardness and always knew I was better for it. I see the light…the positive…glass half full.

Postpartum depression during the first year of my baby’s life. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from childhood trauma. Each became an answer. With each one, “Yes! That’s it! I understand!” Something I could read about. Something I could research and connect to. Something to make it all…tangible. Postpartum depression would’ve been obvious if I hadn’t been in so much denial. I had heard so many extreme cases and knew that wasn’t me. PTSD was even trickier. I hadn’t gone to war. I hadn’t been in a horrific car wreck. I hadn’t had anything violent happen to me. But, apparently, trauma doesn’t always look like this. And the things that would cause trauma to some doesn’t always cause it to others. Who knew? PTSD is a darkness that affects so many who don’t even realize it and doesn’t look the same for everyone. We all like to think we can push things down and just move on, but that’s, unfortunately, not how our bodies work. Push it down and it comes out in other ways. Addictions, overwhelm, yelling, anger, perfectionism, anxiety, depression. The darkness will overwhelm the light until it is brought to the surface and spoken and seen.

My first day sitting on that couch was nearly five years ago. I wish I could say that today I’m speaking to you from my scars…healed but different. I’m not quite there. Scabs? Maybe. It would explain the healing and then the falling that seems to be constant. But eventually scabs must become scars. I know they will. I have the tools. I have my battle armor. I have some answers. Isn’t half the war already won?

I’ve written this post a million times in my head, but I do not want to share it. I’m scared. I do not want to hit the publish button. In fact, I’ve sat on this post for days. My instincts tell me to bottle it up and make the outside pretty for everyone else. But I know that’s not what I’m meant for. I feel a pull to something different. How do we learn and grow without each other’s stories? How do we know we aren’t alone without someone else speaking it first? Here…in this space or behind my camera…my desire is to show you are loved and you belong. I think of the people I love deeply and know that I never want them to feel alone. Or to feel as if no one else feels the way they do. I am almost positive everyone has some kind of pain they are dealing with or have dealt with or will one day deal with. We can either let it fuel love or we can let it make us bitter and afraid. Today I choose love. I never want to choose fear. Always choose love.

So much love to each of you,

Cilla

 image by Stacey Woods Photography

image by Stacey Woods Photography



the wedding binder

 image by Stacey Woods Photography

image by Stacey Woods Photography

It was my very first purchase after he proposed and I said yes...or, more accurately, I said "are you sure?" and then I said "yes!" Not just any old wedding planner would do. It would have to be perfect. I had been the stereotypical little girl who dreamed about her wedding and her Prince Charming. I would play with my porcelain bride dolls (which happen to also wind up and play "Here Comes the Bride") and imagine my Prince Charming. A hopeless romantic. In love with love.   When I was older I began looking at all the bridal magazines. I loved my family management classes in high school and soaked in all the information about planning weddings...and a bit about the whole planning a marriage thing too. In college I would actually buy those bridal magazines and comb through them. I held onto them and dog eared my favorite things. Martha Stewarts were my favorite. So, naturally, when it came time to purchase my wedding planner, I knew it had to be the one from Martha. In her signature blue, it had everything a girl could ever need in what would hold all the essentials in planning her big day plus room to add more. I began to fill it with my dreams...and Bret's too, of course. Images of dresses, tuxes, favors, flowers, decorations, wedding DIYs, sample timelines, vows, business cards, quotes, lists of local vendors, all my research of all the things, and, of course, dream weddings. We wanted our friends and family to walk away with a better sense of who we were. We wanted them to see us in all the details. To see our love. We would have different shades of pink, obviously...that's my favorite color. Bret insisted on actual bow ties...no clip ons for him. We picked a location for the reception that screamed KY, with its rolling hills and beautiful sunsets (Talon Winery...one of my favorite places to shoot to this day). I picked my dress out online and knew it was the one before I even tried it on. I knew we had to have a sparkler exit, so cute little pink matches were the perfect favor. I DIYed everything I could...invitations, decorating the unity candle, the centerpieces. Every detail was just us. Our story. Our love.

That Martha Stewart blue binder was bursting at the seams with details for one day. One beautiful day that was exactly 13 years ago. What it didn't include, what it was so obviously missing, how to plan a marriage. It didn't include details on how to organize finances. It didn't give helpful tips on how to disagree with love and respect. It didn't warn there may be times when you still feel lonely and scared of what the future holds. It didn't tell how to plan for infertility and the possibility of never having a child. It didn't teach about having empathy for your partner even when you don't really understand their thinking. It didn't tell us how to truly be partners. It didn't guide us in knowing how to be gentle with each other while going through those first few months of bringing home a newborn. It didn't give either of us tips on how to handle a mommas postpartum depression. It didn't teach us about giving the best of ourselves. It didn't say we should take a date night once a week or continue to actually date or pursue each other after the wedding. It didn't demand we find a way to have a work life "balance" or how to handle the ups and downs of careers and owning small businesses. I'm thankful we included the 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in our ceremony or it wouldn't have even included anything about what love actually is. I don't blame Martha. I mean, how could she know what our lives would hold. How could we even know that? 

We learned the secrets to love and marriage can't be held within a binder. They are held within our days. Within each moment, each struggle, each "I love you", each spin around the kitchen, each kiss.  We learned how to love when we fought infertility and held each others hands through IVF. We learned to love when we felt the tiny kicks of our baby for the first time. We learned to love when he held me as I pushed our sweet baby boy into the world. We learned to love as we struggled through the first few months of being new parents and the journey through postpartum depression. We learned to love through owning a home and all...the...projects. We learned to love through the laughter. We learned to love through the tears. We learned to love through miscommunication and every "I'm sorry". We learned to love through slammed doors and raised voices. We learned to love through holding hands and big kisses and "good efforts". We learned to love through watching t-ball games and five year old basketball...laughing and cheering. We learned to love through honey-do lists. We learned to love through dreams coming true and the disappointment of dreams missed. We learned to love through books and experts and therapy. We learned to love through self growth and self care. We learned to love through loving ourselves first. We learned to love through dates and surprises...so many wonderful surprises. We learned to love through church hymns and prayers. We learned to love at Friday night football games and late night talks after. We learned to love through rushed mornings and slow summers. We learned to love through teaching our son to ride his bike and skinned knees. We learned to love through seeing friends and family rise and fall. We learned to love through long talks and silence. We learned to love through slow dances and silly family dances. Mostly, we learned to love from choosing each other every single day...through all the beauty, all the darkness, all the passion, and all the fear.

It's not like I imagined when I put together that perfect little blue Martha Stewart wedding binder all those years ago. It's better, stronger, more colorful, and more full of imperfect beauty than I had ever imagined. It's us. It's our story. It's our love. 

I love you, babe! Happy 13 year anniversary! I'm sorry I forgot to tell you this morning in the mad rush to get out the door. I'm so thankful you choose me every day. Can we have a dance in the kitchen tonight? And maybe not cook in it? You know...after football practice and your radio interview and soccer practice. I promise I'll try not to fall asleep when I lay down with Steff. 

So much love...

Cilla