Life in Plan B

No one ever chooses to stand outside of Time. It’s only in moments of tremendous grief or personal upheaval that time itself serves an abrupt eviction. And standing there in a cosmic void of uncertainty, you can only examine the wreckage of expectations with a primal instinct. And lacking any cues to survival, the best that can be done is to begin searching through the rubble for any fragments of ‘normal’ that can be found. And so begins the long, hard work of rebuilding an identity.

* * *

I am a single mother of seven children now. I am not a widow. I am not a divorcee. And I am sacramentally bound to my husband until death do us part. But the process of legal separation has been a brutal reality check on a life that I thought I had all figured out. An identity I thought I had all figured out. I have been with this man for half of my life and on our 15th wedding anniversary this past December, barely a word was spoken between us.  When we started dating, he was my world. I looked to him to show me and tell me who I was, for better or worse. When the ring was on my finger, I delighted in being “his” wife and the Mrs. in front of his name. When the children were born, I thought we were complete and that hand-in-hand we’d let the fire of our love ignite and evangelize the world through the raising of good, wholesome children. I knew there’d be trials… but never, ever dreamed that I’d have to come up with a Plan B.

Yet here I am. 35 years old and navigating how to make sense of Plan B as best as I can. I have to provide for my family for the first time so I work in a restaurant to supplement the child support in order to make ends meet. I am not a stay-at-home wife anymore. The lives of my children have been thrown into extraordinary trauma, so they’ve all been enrolled in school. I am not the home educator anymore. Years of tending babies throughout the night now leave me restless and awake at all hours, haunted by the silence.  And my breasts ache to nurse the baby who is denied his mother’s embrace. I am not an attachment parent anymore. I do not go out on dates. I do not enjoy Valentine’s Day. I do not feel the complete happiness and satisfaction I once knew hanging out with our married friends, but I have no place among the young singles either.

* * *

What is most bewildering is the forgetting that happens outside of time. Faces you know and love may come to visit. And they will offer some comfort: a breaking of the bread or companions in the search for artifacts of consolation. “A sorrow shared is a half joy.” But the faces know what the native can’t seem to remember: life goes on. Elsewhere. Inside the proper laws of time and space and a reasonable continuum of normal.  A place where babies are born, brides are kissed and dogs are played with at the park. So a choice has to be made. Build a bridge to this Elsewhere. Or stay longer and continue to water seeds of bitterness that can never bear fruit. Keep trying to warm the dead body with a torn up blanket or take the blanket to a friend and have her help you stitch it back together.

* * *

Plan B is a no-man’s land in the world of devout Catholicism. While broken families are the norm in the larger culture, being separated with children makes you a demographic ghost in my particular community. People aren’t quite sure how to make sense of what happened to our family and without cutting through what fragile threads of privacy I imagine to remain, I am forced to live with question marks tattooed on my face and speculation following me around like a personal rain cloud. It’s not my job to correct misunderstandings about how the public perceives my situation. It is only my job to be who I am and be that well.

My identity now is the same as it’s always been; I’m  just seeing it for the first time. My self-worth and character are not in the context of another person and should never have been. I am the daughter of a good, royal Father who wants nothing but the best for His children. So He gives us the Cross. Married, single, religious, or ghost… it doesn’t matter, He gives us the Cross that becomes our identity. If we can drain our ego enough to fill up on the Blood and Water that gives us life, we won’t just “accept” our cross, but we will long for it and kiss the beloved wood that will carry us to Heaven.

I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t know how much more I will have to lean on the extraordinary charity of all my friends—my myriad of Simons— to help me carry this Cross. I don’t know how much longer I’ll vacillate wildly between laughter and tears, hope and grief. I don’t know if my husband will ever be open to reconciliation. I don’t know how God plans to shield and save my children through this. I don’t know the end to my story. But I am trying to be patient and faithful in living it. For some people, it’s not even so much that He’s exactly authoring our story… but that He’s ripping pages away from the book we thought we had all written out already, The Divine Editor if you will. When all is said and done, we do know that He promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him.  His ways are mysterious— to be sure. But I know that I love Him the most that a broken, little fool can and thankfully… that is enough.

* * *

Time won’t wait. And time won’t promise to never toss you out again. He is cruel. But there is a way to beat him. At least, I hear it’s so.  Bury down deep, into the beating, bleeding heart of the One who beat time at his own game. And time will roll over you, high above searching for his victim, thrashing and gnashing about, like a storm inciting the ocean to a boil.  But beneath the waves,  inside The Heart, you can’t get tossed.  Time will call your number but the Heart has already called you by name.
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26 thoughts on “Life in Plan B

  1. Amy

    I’ve never left you a comment before, but just wanted to say I am so very sorry. My heart breaks to think of the devastation you and your children are experiencing. I will pray for you.

    Reply
  2. Faith

    I am so sorry! I pray God gives you the strength you need to get through this trial. I’ll pray for your children too. Can you connect with other women who are in this same place? I know a couple of women (Catholic homeschoolers) who also went through this. If you want I could ask them and maybe you could be on line support to each other.

    Reply
  3. Michael cassidy

    I am so happy to pray for you and your family and for the manhood of your husband. Relationship (s) are never 50/50, always 100/100. Set him free, and he will come back. I am certain you have no interest in dating, but maybe try it once, it hurts to suggest—but him seeing this, even something innocent might be what he needs.

    Reply
  4. Holly

    Oh my dear, try not to discount your church community. They do love and they do understand.

    Our parish is filled with families who don’t fit the stereotype and we love them all dearly. Hopefully, if you reach out, you’ll find you have a net just waiting to hold you as you and your children heal.

    Reply
    1. Knowloveserve Post author

      Thank you Holly; I don’t discount them at all actually. Perhaps that wasn’t clear. Despite the painful ambiguities of my situation, my parish family has been extraordinary. I could not do this without my village and I have been humbled beyond belief at the love poured out to me. Thank you!

      Reply
  5. Kate

    I understand. I’m reconciled now, but spent almost 5 years separated. I called it “marital limbo”–that space where you are married, bound by your vows (at least on your end) but not able to live the visible fruits of married life. It is an invisible place, a ghostly existence. It makes people uncomfortable. I sometimes felt that my friends wanted resolution for me even more than I did, because the ambiguity was uncomfortable for them to navigate, because they could see that I was grieving but couldn’t offer me the hope of a happily-ever-after.

    Writing and being open about my situation helped me–and it let me help others a bit. I hope it helps you.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      I came here because someone linked to it in a FB group I’m in, and only now am I realizing that I know you, in a friends-of-friends/admiration from a distance kind of way. If you ever want to talk to someone who understands a little bit, the email I’m using here works, or you can look me up on FB.

      Reply
    2. Knowloveserve Post author

      Thank you Kate; I recognize your name. 🙂

      I can relate to what you say very much. I appreciate all your prayers and support.

      Reply
  6. Jennifer Mackintosh

    My friend. Words fail. I came her to check in and find you carrying this heavy cross. We are, all of us, offered stigmata – the painful wounds of being nailed to the cross – sometimes they are visible, other times not. Know that, across miles, I am praying for you, the children, and your husband. May the Lord be merciful and fill you with every grace to go on carrying this cross while He, in His wisdom, edits.

    Reply
  7. Jennifer G. Miller

    Ellie, I’m so, so sorry. My mother had to deal with this similar cross with seven children and felt the same “ostracization” from the Catholic world. It was super hard. And the change in education and home life is very hard. Prayers for you. Please feel free to contact me anytime to chat.

    Reply
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  9. Leisa

    Please know that I pray for you and your Plan B situation. Please pray for me in my own Plan B – a different one- but still not what I visualized for my life. All we can do in trust in God.

    Reply
    1. Knowloveserve Post author

      I’m praying… may the Lord be pleased to lift up the entire Body of Christ through this.

      Reply
  10. Rebecca

    Ellie, we don’t particularly “know” each other but you came to my baby shower for my first child when we lived in Washington and drew a beautiful picture of birch trees in an ABC book for my kiddo. Unbeknownst to you, birch trees are my favorite and your beautiful red-headed daughter always captured my eye and made me smile during mass. I also read soul gardening journal and feel especially struck by the words that you write there and here. There are a few other peripheral connections as well. All this to say, that while we don’t “know” each other, you and your family have been in our daily prayers and will continue to be. We have also and are also enduring a hardship that hit us out of the blue and your strength and courage as you carry your cross gives me strength and courage to pick up mine.

    Reply
    1. Knowloveserve Post author

      Rebecca,

      Thank you for this comment so much. So many are walking Calvary… let’s pray for each other.

      Reply
  11. Jennifer

    Praying for you, Ellie. Life throws so many curve balls…
    I am praying you will have the peace that surpasses all understanding.

    Reply

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