Valentine’s Gift Idea. Or not.
Y’all know I’m not very good with small talk, right?
I ran into a couple of friends at Target yesterday and after we exchanged pleasantries, I blanked out. Seriously, I stood there smiling (I hope) and staring while my mind literally did not have one single thought except, “Do not ask them the deep questions of life. They are at Target–the Disney World for moms–they do not want to ponder all the thoughts and feelings about love, life, parenting, the Resurrection, or whether Justin and Selena will get back together and turn from their trying-to-be-rebellious-while-still-trying-to-be-innocent phase.”
So, I walked away, awkwardly, while desperately wanting to tell them everything that was going on in my head. They certainly didn’t want that, believe me. They wanted to go to Target and have the same experience that all women have, “I came in for 2 things, and spent $157.”
It’s a beautiful thing.
Now that leaves me with all these thoughts in my head that I need to get out. And, who better to share my feelings with than a captive audience.
(Notice that’s not really a question.)
Surprise! Hope you’re ready.
Let’s start with a confession. I don’t like Valentine’s Day. I never have. I definitely won’t judge you for liking it. I just don’t like the pressure of it, the idea of it, the “I have to love you today” part of it.
I never claimed to be a tender-hearted romantic. Sarcastic? Yes. Mushy-Gushy? No.
Stefan and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Except last year we gave each other a gift. It wasn’t exactly on Valentine’s Day, but it was in February. Close enough.
We gave each other the gift of marriage counseling.
Let me try to explain a little about the last 4 years. In March 2012, at the age of 38, Stefan had a massive stroke. One that should have killed him, or left him permanently disabled. There is no handbook for how to walk that road. At the time, we had a Junior in high school, a 6th grader, a 4th grader, and a 1st grader. Their fears, understanding, and comprehension were vast and complex. They struggled to make sense of it all…as did we.
While in the hospital, we learned that “there was a spot on Stefan’s brain.” Everyone was confident that it wasn’t a factor in the stroke, but words like tumor, clot, and specialist, were thrown in the already confusing jargon.
We spent a year doing two things: trying to figure out what caused Stefan’s stroke and trying to determine what the spot on Stefan’s brain was and if it was dangerous.
We opted to not tell our kids or friends about the spot because it was already an emotional roller coaster that no one wanted to be on, so why put them on another one? Our families and closest friends knew. They didn’t get a choice in whether or not they got to ride.
Our life looked a lot like this:
We received all the best possible physical news for Stefan. The hemangioblastoma on his brain wasn’t growing or life-threatening and probably something Stefan was born with. He didn’t have Von Hippel-Lindau disease, A-Fib, cholesterol or plaque in his arteries. Nothing. He had a “spontaneous dissection of his carotid artery.”
After a year of going to cardiologists, neurologists, interventionists, and other ‘ists’ who far exceeding my intelligence and understanding, Stefan was released to resume life as normal. One of the best days was when our final stop on the hamster wheel ended in the office of an amazing Interventional Neuro-radiologist. He looked at me and said, “Stefan has no greater chance of having another stroke than you or I do.”
And all God’s people said…
Except we didn’t.
We spent more than a year considering and nurturing Stefan’s physical state that none of us regarded or evaluated our emotional or mental states.
The evaluations and assessments were discouraging.
Trauma changes people. It changed Stefan. It changed me. It changed our kids.
Maybe one day I’ll talk about all the changes, but some are still so tender and raw and too personal to share. Even for me.
See? I do have filter (praise hands emoji).
I found myself in a real season of loss. A season that lasted years.
Stefan’s frontal lobe was damaged in the stroke so aspects of his personality were different. Kaden graduated and moved SEVEN hours away. One of my children was experiencing severe anxiety. Not to mention, life kept going on. I was experiencing feelings, emotions, and insecurities that I was usually able to laugh away, but couldn’t this time.
All of that landed us on a couch in a counselor’s office last February with one of the smartest, most genuine, kindest counselors in all the land, or at least, all of Waco.
I firmly believe God uses people to advance the gospel. Simply put, God uses people to help other people see that God takes brokenness and makes beauty. He takes dead things and breathes life into them. Sometimes we just need for someone to tell us that God restores the barren places. Rod did that for us, he told us all that.
Oh, and he also told me I have PTSD. Or I did. Maybe still do. I’m not sure how it works. That’s for another day.
What I’m trying to say is this–marriage counseling was not only the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever received, but one of the best gifts I ever received. Stefan and I have done a lot of messy, heavy, hard work on our marriage this year and we are better for it. Our marriage is better for it. Our kids are better for it (and, yes, our kids know that we go to counseling. I’m determined to raise kids who understand that going to counseling is courageous and brave, not a sign of weakness, fragility, or whatever reason you believe that has kept you from going).
Maybe you just need to know that God restores the barren places. He brings to life those things you think are dead. He is working for your good. Even when everything feels not good. He makes beauty out of ruin.
Maybe that’s what Justin and Selena need to hear. I know he’s moved on to Hailey, but I will forever be pro Jelena. I’m a pretty big fan of first loves, especially since I get to spend this Valentine’s Day not celebrating with my first love.
Happy Valentine’s Day for those who celebrate!
And for those who don’t, we can talk about it when we run into each other in Target some day; but just remember, I warned you that I’m not good at small talk.