The past nine months have been some of the most rewarding - and most challenging - of my life. The months ahead hold so much uncertainty that at times I'm completely overwhelmed, yet I know that they will also bring blessing as I face each challenge with God by my side.
I think you could say I've slain a lot of personal demons along the road I've traveled during this time and with each battle I've grown stronger -- physically, mentally and emotionally. There have been times, more than I can count, that I've wanted to set aside my sword and simply allow the darkness to swallow me whole. But I find a reason every day to pick it up and keep fighting.
The fight began long before this past year and it has given me inconceivable gifts wrapped up in the hideous paper of hurt and heartache and deception. However, one of the most important gifts I've received has come in the answer to a question I almost didn't ask: "Do you still want to be married to me?"
Three simple words, "I don't know," changed my life as I knew it. Although I can't say I thought my marriage was rock-solid at the time I was nevertheless shocked. Those three words broke me in a way that nothing else could. They opened wounds that may never completely heal. But they have had a perhaps unexpected and beneficial effect as well.
I choose to see my brokenness as a gift because of what it has given me: myself. Up to that point I'd lived my life by everyone else's rules. I did what I thought would please those around me, struggled to be the person I thought they expected. And I was tired and incredibly unsatisfied. It is exhausting trying to be something, someone you are not, and to be honest I don't think I even realized I was doing it.
To hear someone you love, someone you assumed would always be on your side, tell you that you are, "Miserable to be around," can be devastating, and for a time it was. But then it became a blessing. I realized I was miserable and I began to do something about it. I began to work harder than I ever had and I did it for MYSELF.
I joined the gym and got a personal trainer, started working out three times a week. I made an appointment with a counselor and have gone once a week faithfully, and joyfully, for the past eight months. I have deliberately and meticulously worked to get rid of the many items that clutter my home and my life. I've begun to see myself not as the world sees me but as God sees me and I have realized that how God sees me is infinitely more valuable than what anyone else thinks of me.
I am by no means perfect but I rejoice in the fact that I'm growing and that I am better than I was. When you hit rock bottom there truly is nowhere to go but up and I have scraped and clawed my way toward the light, filled in the hole so thoroughly that I can never return to it. Each day finds me looking to the future, taking care of myself so that I can better care for those I love, finding happiness, contentment and gratitude in the ordinary.
I look at my boys and know that I am blessed, that when it comes to them I will most certainly have regrets, but it will not be because I should have made them more of a priority or because I didn't consider their best interests when making life decisions. I am blessed because I have found joy in the small things and learned that my happiness does not depend on my marital or financial status or anything else the world has to offer. I am blessed because though my future seems uncertain right now, it is already determined and I am assured that regardless of how it turns out God will be there and it will be good.
On my 34th birthday I give you all this gift, the gift of insight, of learning from my mistakes. There's more than enough to go around. Wives, make your husbands a priority. Husbands, do the same for your wives. Show each other love and respect, speak with honesty and listen with understanding. Forgive quickly and thoroughly and don't dwell on past wrongs. Take time to be together, really together, and nurture your relationship so it has what it needs to grow and thrive. A good marriage requires true sacrifice and hard work, and you will never be able to stop sacrificing and working if you want the best. Honor each other in everything and at all times. The vows that you take are not suggestions -- they are a bond, an everlasting promise that you should remember, and in doing so renew, every single day.
One of the most important things I will take from this experience is the lesson of loving oneself, because if you are incapable of loving yourself you are grossly unprepared to give love to those around you. I regret that it took me so long to figure out how to love myself. Teach your children this skill early and often by taking care of YOU and allowing them to be themselves. In doing so you will help lay the foundation on which they build their life.