Embrace The Mess

Well, if there was ever a year to get back into a hobby, 2020 might be it. Maybe. So here we go.

As we all know, 2020 is a hot mess. A string of catastrophes and explosive tensions. Most commonly referred to as a dumpster fire. A giant burning bin of garbage. 

But what if it wasn’t? 

I am well aware of the various vices of 2020 including but not limited to a global pandemic, unpredictable natural disasters, violence against people of color, a twitter-happy president, and an election to top it all off. The bad and the ugly are clearly evident. 

What if it wasn’t ALL burning garbage? 

Growing up in Kansas (leave your Dorothy jokes behind – I’ve heard them all), I used to drive by these fields and at times they were burning. Yes, quite literally on fire. As a child I was very alarmed because fire never indicated a good thing. It was a problem. I didn’t understand why there weren’t a million fire trucks and a farmer with his bucket of water out there trying to put the fire out. Seriously, who was in charge here?! What I later learned was, the fire was intentional and controlled.

The fire wasn’t bad.

It was meant to burn away leftover crop/ plants and renew the soil. It was meant to help the upcoming crop thrive.  

The fire was destructive still, yes. But destructive with the purpose for renewal. 

What if 2020 was a little more like that? 

As we neared the end of 2019, Will and I kept talking about 2020. We had a really great feeling about the next year. It was going to be OUR year. Clearly our intuition was way off and if there was a way to check it, ours should have been checked. 

Shortly after getting married in 2016 we moved to Nashville and checked off pretty much every other major life change in about 2 years. 

New city – check

New jobs – check

Purchase home – check

Purchase new (to us) vehicles – check

Have a baby – CHECK

All of these were great things and we knew that. I knew that. We have been so incredibly fortunate since moving to Nashville. All of these things were also big changes. In 2019 we thought things might slow down but the year was filled with health scares and loss for Will and exponentially rising levels of anxiety for me. I felt like we were in a years long swirling vortex of mess and chaos.

So. Many. Changes. 

So. Many. Anxious. Thoughts. 

So. Much. Mess. Everywhere. 

I was okay at times. 

Other times the sight of dirty dishes could send me into a full blown anxiety attack. 

Most outside my home did not notice. Unfortunately, having experienced various effects of PTSD over the years I generally appear calm in public situations – regardless my actual experience in that moment. Although helpful at times, it is not always a good thing. 

Finally, after saying I should for years, I saw a therapist. 

Not my first rodeo with therapy but my first time since getting married and the changes that followed. My first time going to someone trained in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) as opposed to the CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) based therapists I’d worked with in the past. Both methods have their pros/cons. 

But I finally went. 

What a freaking breath of fresh air. 

I finally had a safe space to share. To talk about all the changes. All the feelings. All the bizarre and intrusive thoughts I’d experienced since becoming a mother. 

All the anxiety. 

There was validation that all of these things were normal. I was not a “crazy” person (I’d begun to convince myself maybe I was). There was also work. To manage the anxiety and calm the constant feeling of being overwhelmed by everything. 

Manage, not control. 

Part of the reason I felt trapped in a tornado of mess and chaos was because I wanted to control everything. I was raised being told control was good, important, even essential. I had so little control of so much as a child and teenager. As an adult, I thought I’d have more. 

I thought control would give me peace. 

And yet, I had been a part of effecting all these changes and still felt I had no control. There was no peace. Control made it all about me when my life had so much more than just me in it. With therapy came clarity. 

Grasping for control left me whittled down by anxiety. 

It jumbled priorities. I had neglected spiritual health and for me, when spiritually unhealthy, everything else suffers. The pyramid of priorities needed to be re-stacked. Absolute control of everything had no healthy place to reside. 

And so, with clarity and ongoing work through therapy I headed into 2020. We as a family headed into the year we thought was ours for the taking. No foreseeable big life changes. We were fairly settled, fairly stable. 

We soon realized 2020 was anything but. 

2020 has been repeatedly unsettling and unstable. 

And honestly, thank God I’m still in therapy.

2020 was not ours for the taking. 

But 2020, THIS YEAR, can be more than a dumpster fire. There’s a lot of garbage, yes. The fire doesn’t have to be destructive solely for the purpose of destroying everything. Maybe, it can burn away the remnants that do not encourage health to make way for new, revitalized life. 

Yes, there is still much about this year that is a painful mess of chaos. There are many who have been trampled, beaten, and have nothing left to give this year. 

This fire is not without unnecessary casualties.

Perhaps though, for those with any kind of capacity, we can embrace the mess.

We can hold in tension devastation and the possibility for something better.

Step into the chaos with compassion and conviction.

Lift up those that have been ravaged by the fire because it is not a neat prescribed burn. 

Put forth the work so this fire brings forth renewal and reconciliation. 

I know there is more to 2020 than meets the eye. I believe there is a greater story of redemption on the other side. Right now in the midst of it, although it will be uncomfortable and maybe even painful, I’m going to do my best to the embrace the mess.


Yes, it has been quite awhile. I could go into all the reasons why but none of them are that good.

No, this is not a prequel to Taylor Swift’s ever-famous song about being fifteen.

A few weekends ago I had the distinct pleasure of boarding a plane with my 4 month old (more on that adventure later) for a brief visit home to Kansas. As I rode to the airport with great angst and anticipation (did I mention I was flying for the first time with an infant BY MYSELF?) I realized the date. I was travelling home on July 28th. To most, that date is just another number in the month of July. It comes and goes without a thought. To me that day hits every year. It doesn’t politely arrive with a knock, it hits. Some years it’s a light slap and others it’s a sucker punch straight to the gut sending me to my knees.

July 28th is the day a fourteen year old learned just how dark life can get.

July 28th is the day my life changed forever.

July 28th is the day I “grew up” at warp speed.

July 28th is the day my home was no longer mine but the local police department’s newest crime scene.

July 28th is the day I lost my mother at the hands of my biological father.

This year, the hit wasn’t hard. It was there, and it hurt, but the pain subsided quickly – likely because I had much to be distracted by in the form of a 4 month old boy. As I rode in the car checking on my infant son frequently (hi, new mom here) I was struck by something else.

This July 28th marked 14 years.

14 years isn’t typically an anniversary to be noted. That’s saved for the ones ending in 5’s and 0’s. It’s not “significant” by most standards (which, by the way is a ridiculous notion but I digress).

This July 28th marked 14 years and it was significant.

It was significant because 14 years meant I had now lived just as much life with my mom as I had without her. I spent the first 14 years in Lawrence, Kansas on Carolina Street with her alive and present. I’ve spent the last 14 years in many places with her absent. Sometimes it is a silent absence and other times it screams for attention.

This year was also significant because I now have a child of my own. I now know what it feels like for your heart to live outside your body. I now know I would do anything to protect that little life. It doesn’t mean I’m always confident in how I go about protecting it. I now know with more confidence than ever that she was in an impossible situation. I have never doubted my mother’s love for me.

I know she loved me.

I don’t know if she rationalized the environment we grew up in. I know she was also a victim of it. I don’t know the inner workings of her relationship with Marty. I don’t know the extent of her experiences – good or bad. I don’t know if she knew all that Matthew and I were subjected to. I would imagine for her, it was far worse.

There are still many things I don’t know and won’t ever know.

I do know she loved me with a love more ferocious and powerful than any violent act. Because that is the love of a mother. Fierce, strong, and unrelenting.

I now know she was physically pained anytime I was hurt. I now know she had trouble sleeping at night because she didn’t want to miss hearing me cry out (yes, I was the child convinced there were vampires under my bed until age 10). I now know that what happened in the dark morning hours of July 28th, what happened to her, she prayed with all her might would not also happen to her children. She fought. Not only for her life but for ours.

Perhaps it is that prayer that spared the life of my brother and I.

A lot of life has been lived without her the last 14 years.

A lot of good life has been lived without her the last 14 years. I will always miss her. I will always know she isn’t here. I will also know she would want the best for me and man has there been a lot of that.

A best new family. Parents and siblings galore.

A best place far from home to grow, change, and experience full (emotional) life without fear.

A best man to capture my flighty heart and remain a steady calm amidst my dark and stormy.

And the best of the best – the gift of motherhood to my sweet (and maybe a little intense) baby boy.

So now, 14 years later, I can more confidently than ever say: the worst brought the best. The best is still a mess and full of life in its standard form – highs, lows, and everything between. The best is the best because it’s seen through the lens of the 14 years before. I wouldn’t have what I have now had it not been for July 28th 14 years ago. The fateful day my mother left this world. The fateful day our lives were spared by God alone. I know the next 14 years will be something to cherish. I can confidently say I have & will live each day praying to God that I honor her memory and looking forward with such hope to the day I will see her again.


…I can also confidently say I will not be flying solo with an infant again anytime soon. Holy blowout Batman.

Let’s talk about life

Let’s be real here. The last few months around the world have been a little crazy. A “little” is actually an understatement. Amidst the confusion and chaos there have been a lot of feelings both good and bad as well as a lot of things to consider. I’ve been trying to put thoughts to word for months. As the conversations & debates around me swirled I kept coming back to my pro-life stance and began to consider what that actually meant. It had always been easy to consider myself pro-life because I do believe that there is a living baby inside the womb who cannot speak for itself. The issue is unique in that regard. The issue of life is a bit more complicated. I began to think that if I am really for life, then it would be disingenuous to consider only one stage of life.

If I am pro-life though, then I am for life. Period.

Life outside the womb too. What about the life of the woman carrying the baby? Or the life of the child alone in a house devoid of affection? Or the life of the homeless man I see every morning? Or the life of the family living here to escape violence in their home country? Or the life of the boy who just can’t seem to fit in with his friends? Or the life of the convict? Or the drug addict? The list became never ending. All of these are lives too. Lives that have the ability to speak for themselves but so often seem to be ignored or cast aside. Yes, our choices in life have consequences both good and bad. Our choices do not dictate the value of our life.

Life is valuable. I believe that. I believe that each life has been created & loved by God thus sacrificed for in the form of his son. Because each life is valuable. Each life has dignity.

If I am for Christ, then I am for life.

How often do I contradict myself in this though? Not necessarily in action (although at times, yes), but in speech and thought. I hear it all the time. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it too. In a conversation about someone’s characteristics or actions, saying, “I hate that kind of person” or “people like that”. It may feel or seem like any other statement in a conversation but it is strong. This is demeaning to the dignity and value of said “type of person’s” life. Our thoughts lead to our speech and our actions. We will not all agree on the right kind of speech or action in any given situation but we don’t have to hate and demean each other in our disagreement.

We have the ability to respect life while still holding to our convictions.

Regardless what you believe about how life came to be or when it starts I hope we can all agree that each life is valuable. It is worth something. It has dignity.

Perhaps this could help me. Perhaps it could help you. Perhaps it could help all of us treat each other a little better.

I sometimes think about my own life and “what could have been”. If someone hadn’t seen value in the lives of a 12 year old boy & 14 year old girl. If someone hadn’t been willing to step into the mess that is a murder trial, fostering & guardianship, and all the emotional in betweens including the raging hormones that accompany pre-adolescence. It would have been pretty easy to let Matthew and I stay in foster care. To ignore the reality of our situation. To forget us. We would have probably had a roof over our heads, clothes on our bodies, and food in our stomachs. Nobody had to step in. Yet, someone did. A few somebody’s actually, 6 to be exact. They did what was neither required nor expected of them and took in two additional kids. We are better for it.

Someone saw the dignity and value in our lives, despite the mess surrounding them.

The mess. Oh, the mess.

It seems things are bit of a mess right now. I think it’s safe to say our current environment is turbulent. Systems are so broken and disagreements are turning violent. It seems, in our disagreement we’ve lost sight of each other as people, as lives. As living, breathing, human beings. There seems to be a given hierarchy of worthiness based on characteristics & beliefs. Here’s the thing: the dignity and value of a person’s life is never dictated by age, gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, citizenship status, social status, current circumstance, or any other characteristic. No life will ever look the same and that’s a wonderful thing. If we thought of each other as people first, I wonder if we’d better manage our disagreements and have fruitful conversations.

“Life is crazy”. There’s a reason it’s said so often. It’s true. It’s wild and not always full of rainbows and unicorns. It doesn’t mean life has to be awful or full of unrest either.

I am for life because I believe it is a unique and albeit messy at times, beautiful creation. I am for life because if I am in Christ then I am called to love others, be a peacemaker, care for the downcast and the outcast. To treat others as I would like to be treated. To remind myself, and others there is hope in and beyond our current circumstance.

*I realize this is a bunch of words. Words are great. They are not everything. I think another part of being for life is being involved with it. So, I will be researching & getting involved with some organizations here in Nashville that support, care for people & dignify their lives.*

It’s Not Okay…

Abuse in any form is never okay. It is not to be taken lightly nor does it need to be “justified” as abuse based on a certain level of harm (physical or otherwise) or number of instances. It is also not to be claimed lightly. It is a big deal. When I was growing up I never would have told you I had been abused. There were no visible bruises, cuts, or wounds on my body. It wasn’t until years and many sessions of counseling later I realized I had experienced years of abuse and the scars from it were not physical.

Abuse is not always easy to see.

I mentioned in my last post that I would soon put together some examples of the “red flags” I saw growing up that indicated something violent could erupt in my household. With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness month it seems only appropriate I would post this now (yes, a little late since it’s the last day of the month).

Even a seemingly “All-American Family” can be living in hell.

I think it’s important to look at this in the context of the following definition, according to the Department of Justice:

“We define domestic violence as a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

A few disclaimers:

  • I am going to go through some examples of what domestic violence/ abuse looked in my life. I am by no means an expert – only sharing my experiences.
  • My experiences are not going to be the same as any or everyone else’s. They are also going to be generalized rather than extremely specific because 1) that would take a very long time and 2) could potentially bring a huge roller coaster of emotions I am quite honestly not ready for at the moment and, 3) I still have to be careful the information I share because it is public and could be considered negatively prejudicial were there to ever be another trial.
  • This is not meant to strike fear or convince you that there’s an abuser around every corner. It is meant to raise awareness. To encourage you to look closely & ask questions. Even maybe to let you know you aren’t crazy for wondering if your friend might be in an abusive or potentially violent situation.

It’s very easy for me to wonder at times why my mom didn’t just leave Marty. In hindsight, had she explained even some of the inner workings of our household and her marriage I think there would have been many willing to help her. I can’t say for sure but I would guess she stayed because she thought it was the right thing. She thought that by staying in her marriage she was honoring God. She thought the way our household was run was for our best. I’m not sure. As I’ve said before – I don’t know what her marriage to Marty looked like for the first 11 years or behind closed doors. I know Marty had more financial freedom while she did not (despite their joint bank account and income). I know she had been disconnected from all family but her parents (who she and Marty helped take care of) and was fairly private with others when it came to her home life.  Let’s make one thing clear though:

Her death was not her fault.

Even looking at the inner workings of our household it may not have seemed like an environment that could grow potentially violent. The big overarching monster of life growing up was excessive control & fear. Marty needed control over us, and our minds. He loved the game of manipulation. In the moment, it was hard to see. Some things even seeming like they were supposed to be in our best interests (too much of a “good” thing). In hindsight there were some patterns of behavior that became clear were part of Marty’s game:

  • Extreme control over what we ate with strict rules that, at times didn’t make sense or were only bent when he wanted them to be. No sugar, dairy, red meat, or highly processed foods along with the frequent reminder that I would need to watch my weight when I got older because I was “bigger-boned”.
  • With Marty as one of my sports coaches I was reminded often that I should have a very toned stomach and body along with being in better shape than any of the other girls on my team. Generally, I needed to be thinner & in better shape than I ever happened to be.
  • Excessive emphasis on religion to invoke fear & obedience. You needed to memorize your Bible verses before you were allowed to eat (sometimes you missed the opportunity all together). You needed to do whatever “dad” said otherwise God would be angry with you. No questions asked. Ever.
  • Generally strange encounters that left me confused (behaving inappropriately, waiting for me in my pitch black bedroom to have a “conversation” regarding my behavior, etc.)
  • Being shamed whenever the opportunity presented itself (my favorite was when I told him I thought he was having an affair and he said he couldn’t believe I would think he’d do that to our family. Then being told for the following weeks how much that hurt him and the woman I’d accused. Anytime their “friendship” was brought up my suspicions were used to re-guilt me. They had an affair for 4 years)

One of the biggest themes in our house, though unspoken, was fear. Marty was so very controlled in his emotions I only ever saw him become extremely angry maybe twice. Yet, I feared him. I feared he was capable of something sinister. Of course I felt guilty (and disloyal and potentially unhinged) for this but I couldn’t shake it for the 14 years I lived with him. We walked on eggshells in the house because we did not want to disturb the sleeping monster. There were really two worlds in our house. The one that my mom, brother, and I existed in – it was messy, there was yelling, and we broke “the rules” (never told “dad” of course) – then the world Marty lived in. When he was home, we lived in his world. That’s how he wanted it: control of our minds, actions, and emotions. It was hard to see when in the middle of it. It was our normal. And yet, when his world(s) started spinning and the balancing act seemed it was about to crumble he felt he was losing control and resorted to violence.

I wasn’t hit. I wasn’t punched. I wasn’t burned or given any other visible wounds. I still feel the need to justify my upbringing as “abusive”. It still feels foreign to label it as such at times. Yet, it was psychologically & emotionally volatile.

 Nobody who has experienced abuse is to blame for it.

If I could show you the scars on my heart and mind that I still have to re-train from those years there wouldn’t be much healthy tissue visible. I would tell you I still feel a painful rush of adrenaline at the sound of an unexpectedly loud noise. That my nerves are shot anytime I’m surprised. That it took years for me to be okay hugging others. That it took years to experience emotion because I had learned it was best to not feel at all. That anytime I do something wrong (or potentially displeasing to another) I immediately begin to respond in flight mode for fear of drastic consequences. That I still have trouble maintaining a healthy balance when it comes to food and self-image. The list goes on.

Something I must remember: It was abuse and it was not my fault.

My examples may seem silly or even hard to correlate with abusive behavior. Some of the things I listed could have even been good. Here’s the thing: all of those were used as a means to control, incite fear, and manipulate. That’s the problem. That’s the abuse. The abuser dictated the violent outcome that may not have seemed obvious given the patterns in our household. Even “invisible” abuse can lead to domestic violence.

There are more examples and more I could say but I’ll leave it here.

It’s hard to admit someone else had such terrible control over you. It’s hard to admit one act of domestic violence altered my life forever. It’s hard to admit the effects are long lasting.

It’s easy to tell you today I am so glad for where I am, who I am, who made me, and the bright future I believe to be ahead.



*If you have further questions about anything, I am always available via e-mail: melodie.r.haynes@gmail.com*

The Answer is “No”

Not long ago, I was contacted by a production company. They were putting together a new docu-series and wanted to know if I’d be interested in being part of an hour-long episode on Mary’s murder, Marty, his secrets, the trial, and all the juicy details in between. I was interested but had some questions and reservations. Mainly, how would the story actually be presented? I didn’t want this to be a repeat of trial coverage.

My questions were answered and the woman I spoke to multiple times was patient and understanding. I had begun to talk to Will, my parents, and family about potentially agreeing to do it. As I understood, I would essentially be narrating the episode as I had the most “first hand account” information. Of course there would be others interviewed and dramatization (it is television) but I would be telling the story – not some celebrity narrator. It was a chance for me to do something. Not to sensationalize and re-publicize all the messy indiscretions & horrible actions that led to my mother’s death and Marty’s imprisonment. It was a chance to take a different approach. A chance to share all the things I saw then and everything that’s much clearer in hindsight. The various warning signs that Marty exhibited. How my home environment was breeding grounds for something horrific. It was a chance to potentially help someone else. Not to make others see a “murderer around every corner” but to raise awareness. To give hope that nobody has to stay in an abusive or controlling relationship and/or environment. To let others know there is still hope after tragedy. Secrets can be detrimental and silence can be deadly. And, to let anyone who may have felt like me know that maybe they aren’t crazy.

I can’t tell you how many times I felt like an insane traitorous daughter for feeling like Marty was capable of something awful even before that fateful night.

My husband and family supported my decision either way because it was just that – my decision. I could tell some had reservations. I was excited about the potential but still needed some time. Not too much though because these things need to move quickly. I’m not sure what happened but I woke up two days after saying I was “75% on board” with a complete change of heart.

I didn’t want to do it.

It took a little while to figure out why. It felt a little, no actually a lot selfish at first. My reasons for wanting and being willing to do it were still very much valid but I just didn’t want to. The more I thought about it, the more I realized no timing is ever perfect but this timing was particularly awful. The list of reasons not to do it had exploded overnight. It went about like this:

  • We were only a little over a year removed from the re-trial and conviction.
  • I had been in counseling to prepare for and recover from that re-trial (along with other impending life changes) less than 6 months before.
  • Matthew had given me his blessing but had no desire to participate. That was a relationship I needed to grow and mend – more important to focus on that than participating in a television show.
  • Who knows what final editing would actually be and unfortunately, how that could be used against me or anyone else or potentially help Marty in an appeal. You never really know.
  • I had just gotten married, moved over a thousand miles from anything familiar, and was in a very transient stage gearing up to move again.
  • I was still recovering from a traumatic car accident.
  • Doing this would have a chain reaction for so many others and could be emotionally harmful to them.
  • Just because this was the first opportunity to share on a larger scale didn’t mean I had to take it.
  • There are other ways to share “warning signs” where I have more control of the narrative (i.e. a blog) and there is a better chance to remind others Mary was not just a victim of one man desperately clinging to his secrets.
  • So. Much. Change. Happening
  • The potential pain from revisiting so much on someone else’s schedule with some else’s questions to answer was very high.
  • I just didn’t want to.

Sorry, my face won’t be coming to a television screen near you anytime soon.

I think for so long I’ve been used to the repercussions of my mom’s murder dictating where I needed to be and when. There has not been a sense of freedom from the burden of “sharing my testimony” for detectives, twelve strangers in a jury box, or indirectly, the various news outlets the cover the “story”. This is the first time I’ve been able to say no. This is the first time I haven’t HAD to work on someone else’s timeline. It doesn’t mean I won’t ever say yes to something similar but I truly believe it was the right answer. I still very much want to share the story (the whole thing – not just the “legally relevant” parts) and plan to do so. I’m also compiling the list of red flags I saw then and see now because there are others who can benefit from it. Not only those who may be in a similar situation but those on the outside who assume everything is fine.

There is freedom in saying no.

I don’t practice it well because the innate people pleaser in me wants to always say yes for the convenience and satisfaction of others. I truly believe by saying no though there is a chance to share on a better platform in a better light. At the end of the day the whole point of sharing is not only to raise awareness or entertain (it’s still scandalous and full of juicy details) but to share hope. Sure, it’s “my story” as in it’s my life and experiences but it is so much more than that. It is the story Christ has written for me and I do not always understand or appreciate it but the foundation is sure. My only reason for making it this far is because of the sure hope in the God who made me and continues to sustain me. My capacity to live, love, forgive, and continue on in this messy world would be beyond overwhelmed if not for that.

I have hope in something greater. That’s the point. 

I love the words of this hymn:

“His oath, His covenant, His blood

Support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way,

He then is all my hope and stay.


When He shall come with trumpet sound,

Oh, may I then in Him be found;

Dressed in His righteousness alone,

Faultless to stand before the throne.”

Life around me continues to speed along, change, and frequently leave me tripping around with whiplash yet it is still a joyful, bittersweet, and hopeful journey. The past is past with undeniable marks left in the present. The broken pieces are continuing to be remade into something more beautiful than before. I hope you find some piece of light in following along.


A month before our wedding, I was hit and flipped by a drunk driver.

I was driving home from the airport late Sunday night after flying in from a weekend in Alabama. As I exited the highway and went through the intersection about 10 minutes from my house another driver blew through a red light and crashed into the side of my car. I screamed as metal hit metal and glass shattered. I closed my eyes. When I felt the movement stop I opened my eyes. I was upside down. There was glass everywhere and I was staring at the roof of my car.

I walked away.

Everyone was able to walk away. I remember telling a bystander who stopped that I needed my wedding shoes from my car. I was glad to be alive and glad to still be able to get married. That may sound silly but it’s what I was thinking in a moment of total shock.

Don’t worry – my shoes were fine.

In the following days I found myself experiencing extreme anxiety in the car. I was convinced someone was going to hit me again. The stress I had felt about all the impending change with marriage and moving only compounded. There was so much to do. I had to finish wedding preparations. I had to pack. And go to work. And spend time with the friends I would be leaving. And now I had to deal with everything related to the wreck. Working out was replaced with steroids and physical therapy. Eventually, the doctor prescribed anti-anxiety medication so I could function without being sent into a state of panic with no warning.

I had no control.

My life felt wrecked. Or at least like a wreck. Everything seemed disjointed and unorganized. Instead of running through to the end I was treading water. There was a dark shadow looming over the “finish line” of our happy wedding day. My heart lost gratitude for all the wonderful I was still surrounded by. My prayer for a positive spirit had to be repeated everyday because I was so fixated on how everything had gone awry. Amidst it all Will remained constant and encouraging. As someone used to doing everything on my own, in my own way, I don’t always adjust to having a partner naturally.

I wasn’t prepared to be wrecked again.

Our wedding was so incredibly joyful. It was the most fun we’ve ever had. I was able to spend the day with my closest friends and family. I was able to walk down the aisle and meet my groom. We were able to declare in front of our family and friends our covenantal vow to spend the rest of our lives together. We were able to declare the love of Christ. We ate, drank, and danced rejoicing in the love we were surrounded by.

It was truly the best day ever.

The day after we returned from our honeymoon we sorted and packed my belongings. We packed up our new (to us) car and headed to Alabama. We moved into Will’s 300 square foot apartment that was now ours. It took a few days but reality hit. And it hit hard.

I was wrecked again.

I had left the comfort of home once again. I had come to a new place where I knew only my husband and my dog. Everything was new. Most of it was exciting. Some it was not.

And that is where Will met me.

He didn’t try to change how I felt. He reminded me without words that he had been walking alongside me for quite some time. Before I walked down the aisle to meet him he had already been carrying out the role of loving me regardless and walking beside me in the good times and the bad. As we adjust to marriage he remains a source of calm for my flighty and anxious heart. Loving me even when he may not want to or I don’t deserve it.

Will’s love wrecks me.

It reminds me why I chose to marry him. It reminds me why I moved to Alabama and away from all I knew in Texas. It reminds me there is more to consider than just my own selfish desires. Most importantly though, it reminds me of the love we are trying to portray as we stumble through marriage. Will’s love wrecks me yet it pales in comparison to how Christ’s love wrecks me.

I’m continuously met with a love I don’t deserve. When I forget he has been by my side through everything from the beginning. He remains steadfast and true. When Will and I fail to love each other well and want nothing to do with the other, he meets us both. When I succumb to overwhelming circumstance and forget I’m held in his hands, he remains. I don’t need to be in control because he knows it all.

Calm in the storm. Peace in the fear. The sweet aroma of joy amidst pain. When I’ve run far, he remains near.

HIS love wrecks me.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.



Photo Credit: Texture Photo

Forgive and Remember

“Forgive and forget” – it’s age-old advice.

It’s advice I’ve heard given often. It’s advice I’ve been given recently as I head into marriage.

What does that actually look like though? And is it actually good advice? Is it possible?

I can appreciate the notion. Forgiveness is always a good practice in any relationship. Holding past offenses over someone’s head only tends to hurt more. Holding a grudge doesn’t help anyone. It only holds onto the person holding onto it. And often a lot of things aren’t worth remembering.

What about the big pain? The pain that marks you. The pain that knocks you down, drags you around and leaves a scar. Or ten. Should you forget that? Can you?

It’s been a year since I returned to my hometown in Kansas to testify in a second trial against my biological father. A year since I sat up in front of a jury and told them about my relationship with him and what I knew of his relationships with my mother and others. A year since I testified to what I heard the night he took Mary. A year since I ran off a witness stand crying. A year since I revisited pain I’d rather forget. A year ago testifying was a very different experience than 11 years ago. 11 years ago I was beyond furious. I wanted him to have the worst punishment possible. I didn’t know how much weight my testimony carried. I did know I couldn’t do anything but glare. 11 years ago I hated him, and I wanted him to know it. I wanted everyone to know it. A year ago testifying, I just felt sad.

In the decade between the two trials I learned a lot. I went to a lot of therapy. Like, a whole lot of therapy. I also had a lot of wise people in my life that poured into my emotional and spiritual development. Among all of these therapists, mentors, and years a common theme arose.


I’ve tried a few approaches to forgiveness. I’m still definitely not an expert. The first I tried was a one and done forgive and forget. I decided I was going to forgive Marty for all he had done and then I wasn’t ever going to think about it again. I wrote him a letter when I was 16 (that I now realize had all kinds of anger in it) and let him know I’d forgiven him and also refused to acknowledge he existed from that point on. It worked for a while. But then, I was angry again. This confused me. I’d decided to forgive him so why was I engraged and hurt all over again? I realized then that forgiveness isn’t always cut and dry.

“Forgive and forget” doesn’t always work.

It also doesn’t give the weight to forgiveness that it often deserves. Forgiving someone for the big pain, the hurt that marks you. That is weighty. It is hard. It is confusing. In forgiving Marty I had to learn a few things:

Forgiveness isn’t fair

Forgiving Marty wasn’t for him. He could have benefited from it had he chosen to accept my forgiveness but that’s a story for a different time. The only way to let go of my anger was to forgive. I had to acknowledge that as someone who believes God has – for all my wrongdoings past, present, and future – forgiven me, then I also needed to forgive. Not because Marty deserved it. He didn’t. But neither did I. Forgiveness wasn’t fair. It wasn’t earned. It was free. It couldn’t necessarily be accomplished by my own strength. As someone who had been forgiven much by someone much greater than myself I also was called to extend my forgiveness to those that had wronged me. Even the man who murdered my mother.

Forgiveness can be a growing cycle.

I eventually came to a place where I felt more sadness than anger for Marty. How desperate a man to maintain a façade and go to such lengths. I cannot even imagine the despair he felt or the lies he’s continued to have to tell himself to live with what he did. I cannot imagine how lonely that must truly be. This is when I moved from my grudge into forgiveness. Forgiveness seems to be an ongoing cycle though. I didn’t decide to forgive him and end it there. I don’t hold what he did against him anymore. I have forgiven him to the fullest extent possible. I’ve also realized in another decade I could reach a completely different level of forgiveness for him. It’s not always a period on a page. Sometimes you forgive and move on and then you forgive again. Just as I grow and change my capacity to forgive may grow and change. There are still ripples and repercussions from that night that creep up and cause anger. There always seems to be something new (but also old) to forgiven. It seems to circle back around.

Forgiveness is not always best with something forgotten

Trust me when I say there are plenty of days I would much rather forget what Marty did. I would much rather forget the two jury trials we went through. I would much rather forget the first 14 years than remember that one night. To forget would cheapen the outcome though. It would cheapen the growth and the person I’ve become. To forget the one would mean to forget so many other things worth remembering. I can’t forget the bad without losing some of the good too. I can’t forget Marty without also having to forget at least parts of Mary. To remember it, as painful as it may be, gives credit where it’s due. It’s a scar. A pretty big one. And for better or worse it is a part of me. It’s not worth ignoring because there is actually so much good that came from the pain. It’s not worth fixating on either. Forgiving big gives the freedom to remember without a stomach full of fury and the perspective to let the little things go.

Testifying in the trial a year ago had nothing to do with hate or anger. My forgiveness did not release Marty from the responsibility he held to answer for his actions. He committed a crime and deserved to be prosecuted and punished as our law stipulates. As a witness to this crime, I served my necessary role. A guilty verdict is so small in the grand scheme of all that has happened since July 28, 2014.

I wrote Marty a second letter a few years ago apologizing for the first. I didn’t want a response and didn’t expect one. I got one. It wasn’t nice. It also wasn’t new. There were attempts at manipulation and using my words against me. That’s okay. I didn’t forgive him because I thought he wanted or needed it. He’d never asked. He still hasn’t. But that doesn’t change my mind or my heart.

There is a liberating peace in forgiveness. It is hard, it is messy and it can be confusing. Forgiving and forgetting can often be the best option. But sometimes, it’s worth it to forgive and remember.


The Sick List

Writing a blog about your (Lifetime movie drama level) life leaves you raw and open to criticism and rejection. Here’s to facing fears.

When it comes to lists, I can be a little compulsive.

If you know me at all you know my love for lists and crossing things off of them. Wedding planning makes for a lot of potential lists. So today, I started making them. They started out harmless enough. Decorations and supplies needed for the ceremony and reception. What needed to be ordered, bought, and made between now and then. But then I began a list that became potentially destructive.

The list of all the things I needed to do and change about myself before saying “I do”.

All the things that would make me the most beautiful and envy of all other brides on my wedding day. It began harmless enough, a haircut, eyebrow threading, typical pre-wedding “grooming”, and quickly delineated into all the things I needed to change about my body. Lose a few pounds here, tighten that up, make sure this was toned, and that didn’t jiggle. It didn’t just become a list of all the things I needed to change. It became a list of all the things I hated about my body. I considered buying a Groupon for laser liposuction.

Then I had a “what the hell” moment. I ripped the list up.

What’s even more disturbing is my list is not the first list a soon to be bride has made of this sort. These types of lists are, dare I say it, encouraged. Is there any other time in someone’s life they are so highly encouraged to not just improve but change or alter their appearance?

Your wedding day is the day captured in photographs and displayed for the rest of your life. So sure become a size 0 (no hate to those who are naturally small) and drop down to a weight you can not maintain in a healthy lifestyle. It’s just one day.

I’m calling bull.

I think wanting to look and feel healthy and beautiful on my wedding day is a perfectly fine desire. Even hoping for this in everyday life is completely okay.

Being encouraged and wanting to look like anything other than myself, however, is not. Will didn’t ask me to marry him because of my pant size, weight or anything else. People are not coming to my wedding based on my appearance.

I didn’t make that list because I wanted to look and feel healthy. I made it because I wanted other people to think I looked beautiful. Because I wanted others to be jealous of me.

How sick is that?

I considered charging down a path of destructive self talk, thought, and behavior with nothing but insecurity at the core. I want to look perfect on my wedding day. Not because I think it will make me feel more beautiful but because I feel like that’s the expectation (real or perceived).

And it’s not just my wedding day.

I want to appear perfect always.

I fear that if I am not or at least do not appear perfect then people will leave. I fear rejection. If you’re perfect then you can’t be rejected. Yes, it’s a control thing too, still rooted in fear though. Unfortunately, because of my upbringing and the circumstances of the first 14 years of my life it seems this fear has been confirmed. I was not a perfect child. In size or behavior. If I had been, maybe my dad wouldn’t have said those cruel things about my appearance. Maybe if I had been perfect my dad wouldn’t have chosen to have an affair. Maybe he wouldn’t have taken my mom. Maybe my mom would’ve left before he had the chance to harm her.

Obviously, this isn’t rational thinking.

Unfortunately, striving for perfection can bring out the worst. In myself and in others. I had little to no control over the majority my childhood circumstances. The manipulation regarding appearance in my house at the mouth of my father ran rampant. Yet, hearing my mom criticize her appearance and weight helped feed my ideas about my own appearance. And eventually, my behavior.

I hate to admit that I too often let fear win. I give into a sick desire for perfection out of fear. Because if I am not perfect then what good am I? People can just move on to the next person.

I forget that I am unique. I have things to offer that others don’t. Others have things to offer that I don’t. That without acknowledging my own talents and shortcomings I cannot see how others around me are unique also. That often, someone else’s strengths will be my weakness and vice versa. That we can compliment each other in these ways. That rejection is at times an unfortunate part of life. That imperfection is the reality. Everything else that’s been covered up, touched up, made up, fixed up, trimmed down and beyond is fake.

If I take a good hard look I can tell you people have loved me better at my worst than when I was trying to be perfect. Although perfection is what we are sold, it isn’t actually what we’re looking for. It’s not what I’m looking for at least. I am made perfect through Christ alone and this requires acknowledgment of all my shortcomings and and imperfections. What a relief it isn’t actually up to me. His perfect acceptance is the only thing from which I will never have to fear rejection.

So, for my wedding day and all the days before and after I will hope for excellence and expect imperfection. Health in all areas will be the goal, and there will be grace waiting when shortcomings occur. I think health sometimes must begin with a grounded level of realism.

Yes, I still want to look and feel beautiful on my wedding day.

I want the whole dang thing to be beautiful. I think that will happen regardless any imperfection. My wedding day isn’t actually about me and my appearance or the level of perfection around me. It is about Will and I coming together in marriage and what that union represents. That representation would be cheapened if it were covered with an air of fake perfection.

So here is my invitation for my wedding (pictures for many of you, sorry), this blog, and it’s January so, 2016: let’s explore this story that is mine to tell, with all it’s heartbreak, scars, flaws and incredible amounts of imperfection. Let’s see where the mess is made beautiful and the shattered pieces into something new.

Psalm 139:14 ” I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works: my soul knows it very well.”

The dress where it all began

This weekend I got to have engagement pictures taken. I also got to have pictures taken in my mom’s wedding dress. The dress she walked down the aisle in. The dress she arguably, made her most life-altering decision in. The dress she committed to spend the rest of her life with one man in. The same man who would take her life.
That dress. THE dress.
There was an unexpected wave of emotions in putting on that dress. I’d seen it many times before. I’d even put it on once before. This time was different. Maybe because my own wedding date is getting nearer. Maybe because I was going to take pictures in it. I was going to seal that dress in that space and time. In some ironic way, it felt like I was going to bring it back to life.
It needed life. It needed dignity.
It was no longer a pristine or creamy white dress. It was a dull cream with brown and yellow splotches. It didn’t fit me perfectly. It wasn’t my style. I don’t even know how it made me look. It wasn’t about me though. It wasn’t even about the dress. It was about Mary.
Her life. Her dignity.
She was a whole person. She was more than just a wife. She was more than just a mom. She was more than just a victim. She was more than any one category I tend to put her in. I forget to give her dignity. To give her memory life and not just labels.
More than anything, when I put on the dress, I had questions. About her life. About her friends. About her family. About her passions. About her dreams. About her life before she met Marty. About her life after. About her wedding day.
What was she thinking? What was she expecting? I’m convinced she didn’t expect her marriage would be where it was 25 years later. How much did she know? When did everything change? Did anything change for her? Was she sad? Was she angry? Was it worse than anyone imagined? Was it better? When was she happy? I wanted to know what she thought her life would be. I wanted to know what everything looked like from her perspective. I wanted to know what she thought of me. What she would think of Will.
I wanted to know what she would feel if she could look at her dress today.
Regret? Shame? Anger? Sadness? Would there be fond memories?
I can’t speak to the majority of my biological parents’ marriage. Or really any of it. I came along 11 years after she donned that dress. I didn’t observe much in their marriage until many years after that. I wasn’t behind closed doors. I didn’t see everything. I couldn’t. I don’t know when things switched. I don’t know if there was a switch. I don’t know if it was a gradual breakdown. Or a gradual build up to an explosive end. I don’t know how she remained. I don’t know how the dress remained.
The dress.
It’s small. It’s stained. It’s simple. It has not been well taken care of. The years have worn it down. I would imagine the years wore her down. I don’t know her experiences. I can’t speak to them. There are many parts of her life I don’t know. I don’t know all the creamy white parts. I don’t know all the brown and yellow spots.
There are many things I don’t know.
My questions will not be answered in this life. My questions don’t need to be answered. There will come a day when I will be reunited with Mary. When I will be able to ask her about the dress. When we will be able to talk endlessly.
There are a few things I do know. The things, the pieces of her I will be able to hold onto. I will be able to hold onto her voice. I will be able to hold onto our conversations, not what we said but the time we spent. I will be able to hold onto memories. I will be able to hold onto parts of her.

I won’t keep the dress. I don’t need to hold onto all of it.
I will take a piece.
I will take a piece of the dress. It will be made into a veil and I will hold onto it. I will walk down the aisle with a piece of her. I will pass it on to my daughters. I will pass on her memory. I will take a piece of her and weave it into my whole.
More than anything; I will wait. I will wait with her memory until we are reunited in freedom. Maybe she’ll have her dress. Free of stain or taint.
I know she has been made new.
When I look at the pictures of myself in her dress. I will, more than anything, be reminded of the gift I had in her and the gift I have in knowing I will see her again.
And it will be joy.

*Update: our photographer is awesome and gave me some of our pictures early after reading this (www.texturephoto.com)

(c) Texture Photo
(c) Texture Photo

Seven Years Since…

If you knew me seven years ago, you’d know I am not the same person today as I was then. I recently wrote my final newsletter as a Young Life staff person. It was my farewell as I transitioned out of my YoungLives and staff role. It was by no means an easy decision and there were many tears involved. In writing, I had the chance to reflect on my time with Young Life but more than that, the last seven years since I left Lawrence. The last seven years since I left the town where my life was marked and changed.

When I showed up in Fort Worth, Texas in 2008 I was absolutely, 100% running way. I wanted to get out of Lawrence as fast as possible. Not because my family was terrible (they weren’t). Not because I hated everyone there (I didn’t). Not even because everyone hated me (They didn’t…I don’t think). But because I had no interest in continuing to be “the girl who’s dad murdered her mom”. Believing others saw me as such made me see myself as just that.

I was hurt, angry, confused, and I made myself numb to everything. I had practiced for years the art of stoicism and steeling myself against any possible emotions. I didn’t care what any therapist told me – numbness seemed easier. Sure, I smiled for pictures, I had friends, I made new ones, and I participated in different activities. I did all the normal things you’d expect a teenager to do. I just did it completely disconnected.

I had severed my heart from my head.

So, I continued in the same pattern. I even added an unhealthy dating relationship to hide in. I started my freshman year, I became involved in many activities, I went to class, I became a Young Life leader, I made new friends – I could create whatever identity I wanted when I met new people. I didn’t have to be the same person.

And yet, I was the same.

Still numb, still hurt, still angry, still confused. I was miserable. I was incredibly lost. I knew what my foundation was on but I had trouble believing because I did not feel connected to God or anyone else. Numbness permeates. When I turned off my emotions it wasn’t towards specific areas; it was everything. The lights were out in the emotional department.

Pitch Black.

And yet, flipping the lights off doesn’t change what’s in the room (or the heart). The lights come back on and all the same shit still remains. I started sophomore with every intention of keeping everything as it had been. What I didn’t know was; it was time for an intervention.

A divine intervention.

There are marked points in my life where I see God’s divine intervention every time I look back. One is the fact that I am alive and well today – I haven’t done the research but I’d guess most statistics would say I shouldn’t be. Another is my adoptive family and they’re literal rescue of me. I could have spent the rest of my childhood in and out of foster homes. The other is my involvement with Young Life. One of the few things I felt passionate about at the time I entered TCU was Young Life and that was the way the Lord introduced a variety of people into my life that helped pull me out of the deep pit of dark despair I had created. Some of these people did Young Life with me, while others I had met because I was on Young Life’s list of babysitters shared between women in Fort Worth. I finally responded to the Lord’s stirring in my heart and took action.

It was not easy.

I ended my relationship. I started counseling again. And medication. I flipped the lights back on and it was a bright shock to see everything I already knew was there re-exposed. Climbing out of darkness is painful. There were plenty of times I wanted to crawl right back in.

And yet, this group of people loved me, cared for me, and walked with me when I was stubborn and unyielding at times. They became another family and a safety net. Yes, I had my family but I had chosen to be hundreds of miles away from them. So, there was provided for me another family. I wish I could name every single person who played a role in the last seven years but that would be pages. I wish I could say it has been a consistent upwards incline away from numbness and towards feeling for six years but that would be a lie. We know how real life works.

It has been a roller coaster.

There are good days and bad days. There are good months and bad months. Yet overall, it has been a steady incline towards better. There has been immense positive growth and change. One of my favorite things to tell people is something one of my college mentors told me. When she first met me I was nice and I would smile (she let me watch her kids so I hope I wasn’t too scary). My smile though, would not reach my eyes. It would not radiate my face like a smile is meant to. As she watched me grow and change through college and even beyond though; my smile overtook my face. Expression in general returned. I didn’t realize that numbing the inside had numbed the outside also.

So, if you knew me seven years ago you’d know I am a markedly different person today. I would love to tell you life is perfect. Actually, I wouldn’t, because that would be ridiculously boring. Regardless what state I feel my life is in; I know there is so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for where I’ve been but even more thankful where I’ve come to. There is always room for growth and change. And in another seven years I hope I don’t settle to remain the same.

There is always light ready to chase away darkness. Sometimes all it takes is a little divine intervention and the courage to flip a switch.

If you would like to read the final newsletter I wrote for Young Life you can find it here: