2016 was a good year. In fact, it was a year of pretty profound personal growth for me. It all started at the end of 2015, last Christmas Eve, when I went to church with Liz. I hadn't been to church since Kristin died...this wasn't really a conscious thing, it just was. There were a million excuses for not going... I hadn't found a church that I wanted to go to in Houston, I was busy, I wanted to work out, I had the kids... there were just other things happening in my life and all were excuses. Looking back upon it, I think that I was a bit in denial. I didn't want to deal with her death and all that brought up. I was dealing with Kristin's death as best as I could, the only way I knew how.... which was burying my head in the sand and moving forward.
So, when Liz asked me if I wanted to go to First Baptist with her and her family for Christmas Eve, I thought about it and said yes. I didn't have my kids last year for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and the thought of sitting around alone wasn't terribly appealing. In fact, I was in a pretty low place in general because at the time, Jason was (from all appearances) pretty darn happy in his life and here I was still all alone. (Can you hear the violins playing?)
I had been thinking about going back to church and this was the push that I needed. Liz's ex husband, her aunt, her mom and of course, Liz all met over at her mom's house and we drove together, well in two cars. I walked into all the Christmas decorations and the big pretty tree, loads of people all dressed up and members handing out the candles, Christmas carols being played and people milling around grouped in families, all visiting. We found our seats and I looked around, took it all in and... my heart sighed. It was as if God reached down, hugged me and said.. "Hi! Welcome home... I've missed you."
After church we went back to her neighbors house for Christmas Eve dinner. I had a chance to meet more of her "family by choice" and the energy was soothing. There was a comfort being wrapped in a family for the evening, even if it wasn't my own.
After that I tried First Baptist a couple of other times and it was nice.. but I was still reaching for something. Jason had old me about Bayou City Fellowship before, telling me how much I would love it, he just KNEW it. I wanted nothing to do with the church that he and his fiance went to. NO SIR! "You don't know me! You don't know what I like!" (crosses arms and HUMPHS). But when he and H broke up, he asked me again to try it. He assured me that I would love it and he said that way whomever had the kids, it wouldn't matter because they would always go to the same church. So Mom and I agreed to try it. We walked in (it's in a high school auditorium) and met up with Jason in the courtyard to have coffee. The first thing that struck me was how young most of the people were. Kids were running around, moms and dads were visiting, people were pouring HEB coffee and Christian rock was playing over some portable speakers. We walked into the auditorium and the worship band was already playing, complete with drums, at least two guitarists, two singers and a keyboardist. There was nothing boring about this church. We stood and sang for a good 30 minutes when the Senior Pastor came up and welcomed everyone. When Curtis, the head pastor came up, I was struck with the fact that this was not my boring Protestant church I grew up in. Curtis was in jeans, Vans and a button down shirt. He's bald, wears glasses and is not above throwing "jazz hands or West coast Hip Hop" into the sermon if it suits him and fits. Everyone is so welcoming and they know who you are, which is something that is missing in these HUGE church's.
We kept going back and as the month's went on, they started talking about "Overflow" which was a conference in June for women parenting alone. Not just divorced mama's but women with husbands that were deployed, women who were widowed, women who chose to do it alone and women who were forced to. I had little interest in going. In fact, I wasn't going to go. You see, I am not a joiner. I get others to join. I.AM.NOT.A.JOINER DAMMIT! Until... mom introduced me to Natalie one Sunday. Natalie is this vivacious, bubbly, salt of the earth, welcoming soul that doesn't give you the opportunity to say no to her. She oozes Jesus out of every pore yet doesn't ram it down your throat. She started telling me about how when you walked into this conference you'll feel an immediate peace. The white roses, the candles, the music, the decor all set the tone for the weekend. However, the meat of the conference was in the speakers and the attendees. She quite literally, didn't give me a choice of whether or not I wanted to go. She may or may not have had me at white roses and candlelight. I left, looked it up online and signed up and signed my kids up for childcare. My mom even signed up (even though she isn't a woman parenting alone).
As June approached, I started to get excited. Liz agreed to come with me and so did Erica. We walked in and there were refreshments and a bunch of tables with information on them. We signed in and they gave us a book and an "overflow" pen. We all wandered around and then went in and got our seats when the worship music began. It's hard to describe the ambiance and the feel in the room. It was welcoming and warm and peaceful and ..... charged. It's hard to explain what the weekend meant to me but it was inspirational and in fact, life changing for me.
The speakers were engaging, funny, real and even raw at times. Lisa Harper spoke of adopting her Haitian daughter, Missy and how she would go and visit her in Haiti while the process was underway. She relayed stories of learning to parent a 6 year old child when she had lost hope of becoming a mama. She touched the women's hearts in the room because she "gets" it and the struggles we face day to day, because she lives it. It was the fastest two hours I've experienced. I walked out of there bouncing with each step already excited for the next day and honestly, a little sad that it was over.
The next day was breakfast, Lisa Harper spoke again and turned the stories of the bible into modern day experiences that you and I encounter every day (for example, Jesus at Chick fil a at the mall welcoming all of the children into His arms while Peter is trying play gatekeeper).
I went to a breakout session on how to raise courageous children... Christa told us that we need to allow our children to try things. There are three levels of danger in her house... Tell them to pick their battles, make the fight FOR someone else and then teach them to take the consequences for their actions. I went to another on how to combat loneliness by dating Jesus rather than serial dating. Melissa went so far as to tell us to get out of our jammies, into some real clothes and go OUT on a date with Jesus. Melissa was raw and funny and easy to relate to. It was such a great weekend. It helped me re-focus on what's important. I need to be the best ME I can be... not only for my kids but for myself too. I needed to get back to the basics, work on the foundation, the very core, of what makes Jess... well Jess.
I go back to the blog post I posted ages ago about being authentic. I think one of MY bigger challenges is being a people pleaser while still being true to who I am and what's important to me. This year has taught me so many things, but among them, the importance of speaking up when something bothers or hurts me. This may sound so trite and common sense... but when you don't say what is bothering you to someone you care about, you take away their ability to fix it (or choose to get out). Essentially, you end up playing God. In trying to "protect" them from hurting them, you control the outcome and the only one it hurts is you.
This year has taught me that I have to embrace my feelings, the good, the bad and the ugly. When I am sad, BE sad. When I am mad, BE mad. When I am happy and joyful, live in THAT moment. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes life as a single mom (even one who has a helpful ex that does half) is hard. Often times it's lonely. And not lonely like need company lonely... as I always have people to be around (I am so so blessed). But rather someone to share your life with (those same good bads and ugly's).
I know that I am far stronger and far smarter than I was when I was married (sorry Jason). I will be a far better partner and companion going forward if I am blessed in that regard. And if I'm not, then that is okay too. I don't need a partner... I just would like someone to grow old with, travel with and share with.
I am a better mother and co-parent. I think about where I was a year ago in so many things... but one of them is with my ex. He and I were at odds a year ago and throughout his own personal growth this year, I told him that I wanted nothing more than for him to find a woman that was good to him, good to my kids and that I could get along with. Throughout the course of 2016... he has found it and I couldn't be happier. His girlfriend is beautiful (inside and out) and she has two wonderful kids and she loves MY kids. I couldn't ask for more.
I still have much to learn and thank goodness, and God willing, the time to do so. I never want to stop learning and growing and becoming a better person. 2016 WAS filled with it's share of ups and downs and the downs were tough. I have learned that it is in those valleys is when God is doing His greatest work. In one of my devotionals, I read "In the middle of struggle and suffering, tremendous spiritual growth happens." So, those downs taught me something and one of those things is to appreciate both seasons. Be grateful everyday.
I look forward to seeing what 2017 has in store for me and updating this post next year.
(Photo courtesy of Always Photogenic Photography)