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January 11, 2004, I stood face to face with my husband, Ernesto, and pledged my life and love to him for the rest of my days. Little did I know the challenges, heartache, pain, healing and restoration we would face over the course of our marriage.
our wedding day!
Ours was not your typical love story to begin with. We met at work and at first, I honestly didn’t think much of him. He wasn’t my “type”. But as time went on and we became friends, I realized that Ernesto was more than “meets the eye”. There were some factors that held me back from allowing myself to fall for him. He was 10 years older than me, and he was divorced with two kids. Now, these factors aren’t negatives in and of themselves, but they do pose challenges, especially when I had never been married and did not have kids of my own.
I could not relate to where he was in his life. BUT, I couldn’t help but to be drawn to him despite these factors, and inevitably grew to understand and appreciate that his experiences and life before me helped shape who he is. Ernesto had a very quiet confidence about him. He was cool in any situation. He was strong and masculine, but kind and generous. He had a mental strength that I envied. These qualities were so attractive to me.
We eventually began dating and soon knew that we wanted to get married. The year leading up to our wedding however, there were several indicators that Ernesto and I may run into some challenges in our marriage. The biggest being our conflict resolution, or lack thereof. Both of us having “alpha” personalities, had many explosive arguments, some of which almost ended our relationship. We pressed on however, and made it to our wedding day!
A few months after we were married, we found out we were expecting our first child! We were very excited, but at the same time, a little apprehensive about timing. We were trying to find our way as a new married couple, trying to improve our communication, trying to live on a VERY tight budget, and I was navigating through grief over my parent’s being newly separated. I wasn’t sure what to expect and wasn’t sure what kind of mom I would be. Little did I know the profound impact of becoming a mom would have on my life.
our son, Blake
Our son was born two weeks after our 1st anniversary. He was perfect and I fell in love from the first moment I laid eyes on him. I remember like it was yesterday holding him in my arms and feeling SO ALIVE! It felt like for the first time in my life, I had woken up! I felt full of purpose! And at the same time, fear overwhelmed me. I had never before felt an attachment so strong, so life-changing. As if my very existence and happiness now had everything to do with this precious life I cradled in my arms. The love I felt was so foreign because of the visceral nature of it. The attachment was so immediate and intense that it felt as if my heart was breaking, it was SO full. I was absolutely petrified that something or someone was going to harm my son. I would lay awake at night praying over him and asking God to surround him with His angels every moment. I thought I might be losing my mind with the intensity of my emotions, but then quickly realized that I’m just a mom...and that’s how mom’s feel about their children. Well, most do anyway.
As a new wife and a new mom, and trying to support my mom through her separation from my dad, life proved to be incredibly stressful on my marriage. My husband and I fought more than not and it was causing a lot of damage to our relationship. To make matters worse, we were facing a move to Las Vegas. My husband was approached with an opportunity to begin a career in medical sales. I was passionately against this idea as I did not want to move away from my mom or my friends and I had just started back to school to finish my degree. I also HATED the idea of moving to Vegas. I’d never been there to visit and had no desire to, so the thought of having to live there was very upsetting. In addition to that, the first two years of this job would require Ernesto to take a $15,000 pay cut, which proved to be devastating to our finances.
So, the next several years in my marriage were wildly tumultuous, and that’s putting it mildly. My husband and I spent most of our days screaming, fighting, and slaying each other with insults that cut deep and severely damaged our sense of connection and intimacy with each other. What we didn’t realize then was how much both of our pasts were controlling our interactions with each other. The wounds from our pasts, the abandonment we both experienced and the fear of rejection in our hearts, caused us to lash out at each other. I thought I had done the work in my early 20’s in counseling, but in fact, it only scratched the surface. Marriage and motherhood brought out an entirely new set of fears and insecurities in me that I didn't even realize existed. And my husband, oh how his wounds ran deep. Deeper than anyone could ever imagine...
One of 5 kids, my husband was raised in poverty by a single mom. She would send him off (always him and one of his other siblings) to unwelcoming family members each time the new man in her life didn’t want to deal with all 5 kids. From an early age he was told stories about his biological father and how abusive he was. In fact, Ernesto was born two months pre-mature because his father beat his mother so badly one night, she went into labor. After years of hearing these stories, at 15 years old, Ernesto’s mother came to him one day and told him that he would be moving to Oklahoma to live with his father. She was marrying a man who did not want so many kids and so Ernesto, along with his older sister, had to go!
He’d never met his father until the day he picked him up and took him back to Oklahoma with him. He lived with his dad for 5 years. If he thought he was poor with his mom, he realized he never knew the meaning until he went to live with his dad. They did not have electricity...like ever! They ate food from a cooler. Ernesto was part of an after school work program for underprivileged kids where he would earn money working on school grounds. He was required to give the money to his father, who was mostly unemployed. Ernesto witnessed his father’s violence, mostly toward his step-mother. She was beaten bloody on several occasions. Feeling completely abandoned, worthless and angry, Ernesto’s heart grew cold and hard. He was a very violent young man, constantly getting into fights, and getting into trouble not only at school but with the law.
When he returned to California to finish his senior year of high school, he partied hard with drugs and alcohol and didn’t care if he lived or died. Both of his brothers were (and still are) in and out of prison, and this is where he was headed. As a result of his reckless living, Ernesto got a girl pregnant. She told him that the only way she would allow him to be in his child’s life was to stop partying and marry her. He refused.
It wasn’t until his son was a year old that he decided he wanted to meet him and that he wanted to be responsible for him. He said the day he saw his son for the first time was pivotal. He walked up to the door and knocked. His son’s mom came to the door with this black-haired baby boy. He said that as soon as the door opened, his son reached his arms out to him as if he knew exactly who he was. From that moment, he knew that he had to do everything he could to be in this boy’s life, so he married his son’s mom and they began a life together.
They went on to have one more child, a daughter, two years later. My husband’s ex-wife also had a son from a previous relationship. His name was Anthony. Those who were close to him called him “Tony”. He was only 6 months old when Ernesto met him. He loved this boy as his own son and he knew no distinction between him and his other two kids. He had three kids that were his whole life, and despite struggling in his marriage, he tried with tremendous effort to be the best dad and husband he could. Ernesto “straightened up” and was heavily involved in his local church, attending every weekend service, mid-week bible study and any other outreach event the church offered. He faithfully served. Life carried on. Until one weekend...
It was a Friday in early April, 1997. Ernesto, his wife and the kids were all home. While Ernesto and his wife were inside, his kids were outside playing with the neighbors in their fenced backyard. A man approached the kids from the other side of the fence. He held up a picture of a puppy and offered the kids a dollar if they would help him find the puppy. The kids agreed to help look for the puppy and as they left the back yard, the man grabbed Tony, and threw him into his car and drove off. The other kids ran back screaming. For the next two weeks, My husband, his wife, their family, and local and national law enforcement were involved in a full-scale man hunt for Tony and his kidnapper. Then, almost two weeks exactly to the day that Tony went missing, a lieutenant from the local police department came to visit Ernesto and his wife. This visit is one of nightmares, bringing with it information that brought my husband and his wife to their knees. Grief SO deep, SO unbearable, that it brought them to the edge of insanity. Their beloved son Tony was found dead. He was murdered at 9 years old.
It seems insensitive to try and describe the extent of Ernesto and his wife’s grief, as if there are words. There simply are NO words in any earthly language that could come close to adequately describing the depth and magnitude of their grief and the pain of their loss. Even though I am married to Ernesto now, and have experienced very private moments with him as he navigates through life with the reality of his loss, I will never know, and selfishly don’t want to know, how he truly feels. I have witnessed him be raised from the dead...raised out of the pain, and even today, the healing never stops. It can’t, not when it comes to our children. My husband and his wife struggled to survive, both separately and apart. They decided to separate and then inevitability divorced. My husband, in his effort to survive this trauma, developed a coping skill by training his mind to completely shut off. Like, SHUT OFF! This was essential to his emotional survival after his son passed, in that it allowed him to not go crazy, literally. As essential as this coping skill was to his mental and emotional well-being, it greatly impacted our marriage years later. With Ernesto’s young life and then the tragedy of losing his son, combined with my childhood and fear issues, we were a couple of ticking time bombs, ready to explode at any given moment.
About 6 years ago, roughly 12 years after Tony’s murder, the man who killed him was finally brought to justice. Ernesto and I along with Tony’s mom and their two other kids, attended the sentencing of Tony’s killer. This process brought to light some details regarding Tony’s last moments that were unbearable and nearly impossible to hear. We knew that it was time for Ernesto to talk to someone, a professional, to work through this information and to gain help in coping with it. We were referred to Renewing Life Center and began seeing Dr. Patricia Meye. The first several sessions involved my husband working through his grief. I attended most of the sessions with him in support.
Naturally as the sessions evolved, the issues of our strained marriage came up. We were at a crossroads in our marriage and we knew that if counseling didn’t work, we were done. God knew exactly what we needed and when we needed it. He brought us the MOST AMAZING counselor on planet earth! I will never be able to say it enough times how instrumental Dr. Patricia Meye was in the healing of our marriage. She explored dark and painful places in our soul that were difficult to face, but she showed us that with God’s loving care, He would shine a spotlight on our pain, and bring it to light where it can be healed and restored. Ernesto and I went every week for a very long time. We worked through many past wounds that led us to inflict wounds on each other in our marriage. We were one step from divorce, but with hard work, perseverance, courage and commitment to the process and each other, we experienced amazing and divine healing in our marriage. I fell in love with my husband all over again (or maybe even for the first time) and discovered a level of intimacy with him that I never thought could be. We renewed our vows two years ago on our 10th wedding anniversary. And on that day, I was 8 weeks pregnant with our second child, our beautiful daughter.
Now I wish I could say that all was perfect from that moment on, that we all just skipped off into the sunset together and never experienced another hurt, another crisis, another bout of fear and anxiety, etc etc. But that’s just NOT life. Life is full of ups and downs. Present day we have experienced huge transition, that has brought with it some challenges. Our son is 2 weeks away from turning 11 and our daughter is 17 months old. Having an infant, and now toddler in the house again took some adjustment. Our sweet girl is the light of all our lives, especially to her older brother.
Blake & Charlotte
Six months ago we uprooted our family and moved back up to my hometown of Seattle, Washington. These events have brought tremendous blessing and joy into our lives, but also stress. And here’s the thing about God, His promise is not to keep us from ever experiencing anything painful, or frightening, or devastating...His promise is that WHEN we experience the dark times, He is with us. When we face confusion, disappointment, or devastating loss, He will carry us through it if we allow Him to. God is a gentleman, He will not force us to do anything. He will kindly and lovingly nudge us, reminding us that He is There, that we are not alone. We are never alone, ever! It’s comforting to know that our God can relate to us. Jesus himself experienced abandonment, and betrayal. Jesus was God’s only son and he was murdered! He was tortured and beaten, humiliated and spit upon, and God grieved his son’s death. But the story didn’t end there, Praise Be to God! Because Jesus rose from the dead, we have the hope and promise to be reunited with him when our time is done here on Earth. I know it gives Ernesto great comfort knowing that he will be reunited with his son some day, but until then, he knows that Tony is held in the arms of Jesus, perfect and unharmed.
** Among many of her talents, Allison is a gifted singer and songwriter. Her songs are inspired from her personal experiences and her love for our Heavenly Father.
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