Today, I spent the day with Grandma and I began to think.
I've been in North Carolina for almost 4.5 years. It's actually the first place that there has been stability in my life since I left my Dad's.
In Chicago, from 2006-2009 certain parts were stable. Motherhood, for instance. I loved Ella with all of my heart, a fierce, intense love. I still do. Mentally, though, I wasn't doing so hot. Still reeling from the loss of my first child, I was anything but o.k. An argument with my husband comes to mind, in November of 2006. I can't tell you what we were fighting about, but I do remember screaming, "It's YOUR fault she died!" and storming out the door into the cold night, leaving a bewildered Gabe in charge of a sleeping Ella. I don't remember how long I was gone for. Maybe an hour, but probably less. In addition to my not-so-hot mental state, my marriage suffered terribly during that period. I worked a ton of hours, while my husband barely worked at all. We never talked, and when we did, it wasn't nice. I had a very me-and-Ella-against-the-world mentality. She was my rock during that time.
The summer of 2009, I discovered the Bible and began reading it. My marriage improved, but quickly plummeted when we moved to Texas. There's not a day that goes by that I don't regret that decision. My father-in-law and I fought like cats and dogs. I won't say any more about that period of time because it was awful. Awful. I made sure Ella made some good memories there, but if I had it to do over again, we wouldn't have gone to Texas.
In 2010, I returned to Chicago, and honestly, didn't care whether my husband joined me there or not. The 5 year anniversary of the day I lost Riley was approaching, and I was grieving and reckless. I made some terrible decisions that almost led to the demise of my already-failing marriage. My husband's solution was to come to North Carolina of all places, a place where we thought we knew people (turns out we didn't know them nearly as well as we thought).
The last thing I wanted to do was leave my hometown. And truthfully, the last person I wanted to leave my hometown with was my husband. I was already referring to him as my "evil ex." But...in July of 2010, we left. Together. I spent most of the next two years hating him for it. I didn't KNOW anyone in North Carolina, and those I knew it turns out I was better off not knowing.
One day, while taking Ella to the grocery store, I was approached by an elderly man who informed me that Ella could play on his swingset anytime she wanted to. That man turned out to be Grandpa Bruce, and he turned out to be part of the turning point in my life. Eventually, I took Bruce up on his offer of using the swingset and I fell into an easy conversation with him and his wife, over green ice pops. Ella played to her heart's content, and Bruce and Jean (aka Grandpa and Grandma) talked and listened.
When I told Grandma I wanted a divorce, she laughed and told me, "I got divorced. It didn't work well for me." but she didn't try to talk me out of it. When Gabe and I had a huge screaming fight and I ran off to Grandma's, she served me scrambled eggs and listened to my list of grievance against Gabe. When God miraculously intervened and pieced my broken marriage back together, she welcomed Gabe with open arms. When I desperately needed a babysitter so I could go to work on an unexpected day, she and Grandpa watched Ella for me, no questions asked.
I live on Grandpa's tomatoes every summer. Ella absolutely adores Grandma and Grandpa, and Gabe loves them, too. I was raised by my grandparents, and I felt terrible that Ella didn't get to see hers on a regular basis. My Dad is a saint, but sadly, he is in Wisconsin, and my Mom...ugh. Let's not go there. Gabe's parents are in Texas, and I am just not ready to go back there. Maybe I won't ever be.
Coming to North Carolina seemed like the biggest mistake ever. But God used it for so much good. For the first time in my LIFE, I enjoyed being a stay at home Mom. I learned to cook. I learned that my husband is not the guy I thought I married. I learned that he is one million times better than that.
I learned that there are good people in the world.
Today, on my way to Grandma's house, I looked around me and my heart broke a little. Eventually, we will leave, and it will be for the best. I miss the north. I need to be closer to my Dad. But part of me will always love these mountains. Part of me will miss the flowers on Grandma's porch. Part of me will miss watching the stars twinkle over the hills.
I am so blessed that God guided this journey, that He led us to this place, to these people, to these mountains. It's so beautiful. All of it.