A heartfelt letter to year-ago me

Dear self,

You have no idea what this next year holds. I mean, you have a vague idea. You're pretty sure Matt's going to get the cop job. That would mean he goes to the police academy for four months. You know you'll be having a baby midsummer. You know that Xavier will grow and change and there will be highs and lows in marriage and parenting and health and friendship and all of it, because that's life.

You have no idea how hard it's going to be.

You have no idea how good it's going to be.

Matt's going to get the cop job. You'll celebrate and drink champagne and marvel at God's timing and how all those closed doors and disappointing interviews lead here, to this, this absolute dream department.

You prepare as best you know how. You do google search after google search, looking for law enforcement blogs, any kind of glimpse into this new world. You pin things to a secret Pinterest board, things like "how to fight fear as a police wife" which doesn't actually make you less fearful, it just gave you more things to be afraid of. Come to think of it, I should probably go un-bookmark that particular post.

You make lists of all the books to read. Books like Bullets in the Washing Machine and I Love A Cop. You learn the statistics for divorce in law enforcement marriages. You're positive they don't apply to you.

Matt starts 6 weeks of department training in January. The schedule is mostly normal, 8-5 Monday-Friday, but there are some days that require nighttime ride-alongs, so those days are different. It's the beginning of the end - the end of a routine schedule and normalcy as you knew it.

He goes to the police academy the first week of March. He has the alarm clock and the combination lock for his locker, standard-issue navy blue gym shorts and a handwritten note and chocolate tucked into his bag. He'll live at the academy Monday-Thursday pretty much every week for 15 weeks, coming home on Thursday night. A few weeks are "long weeks" and he doesn't come home until Friday. You're 6 months pregnant with a very active toddler who is prone to tantrums. Your parents are in Mexico. This is the "trial by fire" stuff that people always talk about. Those single-parenting weeks are the hardest weeks you've ever lived through. Matt doesn't have his phone during the day, so you chat each night for a few minutes, a quick FaceTime if he can swing it. Xavier knows Daddy is gone, and acts accordingly. For the first time in four years of marriage, you're spending every night alone.

You begin to learn just how strong you are, and just how real Jesus is.

You have to face your fear of the dark and your nighttime anxiety head-on. You have two kids who need you - one sleeping in the room next to yours, and one curled up in your belly. You fall asleep clutching your Rosary most nights, hot tears soaking the pillow, wondering if all of this was worth it. Could it possibly be worth it?

I promise you - it's worth it.

Pregnancy aches and pains intensify; it's really tough to walk or stand for any length of time. You hire a housekeeper and cry over the decision, feeling like you can't even provide for your family in this small way. I'm telling you - do not cry over someone else cleaning your house. It's pretty great.

After a week of off/on labor, on a Wednesday evening, heaven and earth collide and there is pain and suffering and redemption and joy all wrapped up in that single, earth-stopping moment when they placed her on your chest. Her: your daughter, Zelie James. And just as it was the first time, it's truly a miracle, that this absolute stranger feels like someone you've known a lifetime. I think you have, after all. I really believe that's how it works.

Matt will be there. I know you're so worried about the timing. After all, the duedate is before his academy graduation, and he's over an hour away, and how will it all work out? There are so many moving pieces. But God goes before you in the big things and the tiny things too, and it couldn't have worked out more perfectly. He's home the night you go into labor and he drives you to the hospital and you ride the whole way clutching his hand and thinking to yourself, here we go. Here we go.

Oh, by the way, you find Scout a new home, with a dear old friend. Talk about another perfect orchestration of details. He's happy, and healthy, and you even see him from time to time.

You settle in as a family of four. You're wobbly and unsteady, like a fawn on her spindly legs, but you get stronger every single day. Matt graduates the academy and you get to go, I know how much you want to. Your mom comes too, because you did just have a baby, after all. The feeling of relief when he walks in the door, home from the academy for the last time, is something you'll remember forever. There's a picture of the four of you, you with your gym shorts and unwashed hair, your still-look-5-months-pregnant postpartum belly, and you're all smiling ear-to-ear and it's one of your favorite photos in the whole world because of all the relief it holds.

You did it. You did it.

And just when you started to get into a routine with Matt away at the academy, it all shifts again. Now there's a hungry, sleepless newborn, and Matt's schedule keeps changing, and there are so many tears, so many tears on all sides. Will you ever figure it out? Was this all a huge mistake? There are moments that leave you breathless, wondering if life will ever feel like anything but suffocating chaos.

I'm here to say: life becomes so much more than suffocating chaos. The chaos is real, so real. The overwhelm is like nothing you've experienced. But you'll make it through to the other side, and before you know it you'll be writing blog posts at 8pm, both children sleeping, Matt away at work. You will find your way. You always do.

As summer begins to fade into fall and Xavier's second birthday looms, you can no longer ignore the quiet nagging that says to look into his speech development a little more. Friends have said repeatedly that all kids talk on their own timeline (it's true!) and the pediatrician didn't seem too worried (which is valid) but you also know that those mama instincts are real and even though you've questioned them in the past, you decide to trust them this time. There's a speech evaluation, two kind and warm therapists who come to your home on an August afternoon and, as they play with your bright and beautiful boy, evaluate him for verbal, cognitive and motor delay. You're afraid they'll tell you something is wrong. You're afraid they'll tell you nothing is.

In the end, they tell you what you already knew: Xavier is off the charts on intellect (you think?) and way ahead of his peers on physical skills (100 miles per hour, all the time) but his speech could use some help. He qualifies for services; you go ahead and set them up. A speech therapist comes to your house once a week, and after two sessions she says a word that stops you in your tracks. "He's too young to diagnose officially, but in my experience, I'm going to say he has apraxia. Don't google it." But you are a rebel, and of course you google it, and you find yourself bawling in the shower, wondering if your son will ever speak, ever say "I love you", ever say his own name?

In just a few months time, you'll find yourself bawling in the shower, because your son just told your "I love you." A few weeks later, he'll start to say his own name.

Matt finishes four long months of field training and is released on his own. There's a police car in the garage, a bulletproof vest hanging in the hallway. As the year begins to fade, begins its slow march into the holidays, you learn just how much this new job, this new life, has demanded of you.

You sleep alone every single night, because he stays awake on his off nights to keep his night shift schedule. There's no more talking about random pointlessness, no more holding hands as you fall asleep. Just you and the dark.

Weekends look different, and it's hard to let go of what used to be, like Saturday morning pancakes and kitchen dance parties to country top hits.

When you say goodnight and go to bed at 10pm, you're not going to talk to your husband for 12 hours or more, until he wakes up at his usual 11am the next day.

You do the morning routine by yourself, every single morning. Change diapers, get dressed, eat breakfast, read books. That is, of course, except for the mornings when everyone is crying by 9am, yourself included, and Matt is woken up early by toddler wailing outside his bedroom door, only to find his wife sitting on the laundry room floor, also sobbing. There are days when it is all simply too much.

People say to you "God doesn't give you anything you can't handle" but you know that to be completely untrue. There is so much of this life that you cannot handle on your own, not a chance. Thankfully, He never asks you to.

It would be easy to write off this year as a tough year, to focus on all the hardship and change and leave it at that. But here's what I want you to know, most of all: this year was the best year of your life. This is the year you grew up, you learned how much grit you have, how far gratitude can take you, how infinite God's grace is.

There is so much that you gave up, so much that you sacrificed. This year demanded more of you than you thought you could possibly give.

And this is the year that gave you more than you could possibly deserve.

Because it is an honor to do this life. It is an honor to stand beside Matt as he lives out his calling, to know deep in your soul that this is exactly what God created him to do. It is an honor to pray for him before he leaves for each shift, to pray for protection and safety, for courage and strength, for kindness and compassion. It is an honor to run our household, to do all the behind-the-scenes tasks that make our life and family possible. You may never wear a badge, but you are every bit a hero.

You're standing on the edge of this year with no idea what it holds. There will be moments where you wonder how on earth you'll make it through. I want you to know: not only will you make it through, but you'll find yourself willing to do it all over again for the honor of belonging to these people, and them to you.

It's all worth it.

It's going to be so good.

Just you wait.

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