I knew he was mad at me, after all I had made the biggest mistake of my life. His silence was painful, day after day leading up to Christmas …..life was empty, no adult voices. Messages of how worthless I was to him and how much he despised me filled the quiet rooms. I was hurting deeper than I had ever hurt before and I felt so helpless. I tried to apologize, I tried to serve him, but nothing I could say or do could fix this. I was so alone.
It was Christmas day 2007, we had come down out of the mountains where we lived to spend the holiday with his family. I was sick with fear, would this be the moment that he chose to stop the silence. I was filled with intense shame, is this when my sin would come to the surface. When everyone in his family would know how bad I was? He talked with everyone, but I busied myself with my children trying to numb out what had happened. I was so anxious that my hands shook, my brain was in a fog as I floated around the house. Finally around adults, but wanting nothing more than to disappear and isolate.
That morning we woke early, the children excited to see what Santa had brought them. After the rush of those first magical gifts, everyone gathered to open the pile neatly stacked under the tree. His family had a tradition, starting with the youngest child and moving up, they took turns opening up their gifts. My little boys were first, then my ex-husband’s brothers, and finally his mother spoke my name. I was excited for my turn, maybe a small gift would help me feel a little better. I sat anxiously as she searched for a gift under the tree. She thoughtfully picked up one gift after another, carefully reading each name, handing the gifts to the recipient. As one minute stretched into two and three, A few other family members started reading names and handing out gifts trying to hurry up the process. The room growing more and more silent, nobody knowing how to handle the moment as it turned more and more uncomfortable.
I felt sick to my stomach and jittery. I wanted to sink backward into the couch cushions and disappear. Wishing I didn’t exist, “No, not you too.” I thought as tears started to fill my eyes. I tried to think of something else holding them back. Somehow thinking that if everyone in the room thought I was okay that it would be okay. The truth, I was dying inside.
After a few minutes, she smiled at me and said, “Yours must be hidden.” It seemed as if the entire room took a deep breath, and without another word they passed me by. I’m not sure if they were more excited to have the attention diverted or if I was. I turned my head away, worried my eyes would betray me, just for a moment to gather myself.
A gift was easily found for the next oldest person, my husband, a new leather wallet that I had carefully picked out. The tradition continued with laughs and smiles. I tried to smile, I tried to be happy for everyone else.
The relief that I felt when the attention was diverted from me didn’t last long. Soon, the tradition started over with the youngest. I dreaded the moment when it was my turn when awkwardly this time my mother in law turned around in search of another gift. This time the search didn’t last as long. Again she was unable to find a present and they passed me by. A little more awkward this time, but not a word spoken. They went around and around each and every time passing me up, each and every time I wanted to die. I worried, now everyone could see how unimportant I was.
The worst part was that I felt the entire time that I was getting what I deserved. I had hurt him and no amount of punishment could make up for my mistakes. I had wanted so deeply to be a good wife. I wanted him to love and care for me, but he just didn’t.
As Christmas approaches this year, I can remember that dreadful morning 9 years ago. I remember feeling worthless, and unimportant, as they passed me over and over again. Still to the day, I am anxious about Christmas mornings. My circumstances have changed dramatically and I am divorced now, but that memory of being forgotten, everyone in his family seeing it, and the dead silence still haunts me. Not because I was in dire need of gifts, but because I was in dire need of being seen, and being loved.
It has taken me years, but today I can look back and realize that his neglect didn’t have anything to do with me. I can see that all my imperfections and mistakes did not account for his actions towards me. He held every character flaw that I have above my head to remind me that I didn’t deserve any better, but all of my flaws can’t be used as excuses for his poor behavior.
I now recognize that Just because he didn’t value me, didn’t mean that I wasn’t valuable. I quit letting his actions define me. I can see now that with or without any gift, I am loveable, I am valuable, and I am worth seeing. So are you!