My friend, Mikala, realized the beauty of the ordinary when, after being married seven years to an active drug addict while raising two young children and finishing her family practice residency, she reached a breaking point and surrendered. In her new book Ordinary on Purpose: Surrendering Perfect and Discovering Beauty Amid the Rubble, Mikala shares her heartfelt journey of sifting through the shattered pieces of a broken marriage to uncover a messy, beautiful, ordinary life grounded in the radiant hope of God’s unending love.It’s a grace to welcome Mikala Albertson to the farm’s front porch today . . .
For years I operated under the general tenet I should always, always, always present my best self.
My husband is on drugs? My marriage is failing? I’m floundering through this job as a family practice doctor and it’s choking the life out of me? I’m trying with all my might to hold it together for my little ones at home? I’m lonely and sad and scared? I’m broken??
Nope. I didn’t mention any of that truth to anyone. I just smiled. I pretended. I tried harder to appear perfect.
“I thought our main job on earth was to attempt to live the most perfect life possible. So even though my life was crumbling down around my ankles, I did the best I could to appear perfect.”
I honestly thought that’s what we were supposed to be doing down here. I thought our main job on earth was to attempt to live the most perfect life possible. So even though my life was crumbling down around my ankles, I did the best I could to appear perfect.
I showed up wherever I went and talked about kids or work or mom stuff or paint colors or how many pounds I needed to lose. And the more I floundered, the nicer clothes I wore, the better my hair looked, and the wider my smile.
But then eventually in the middle of all that pretending, life shoved me down. HARD. And everything fell apart.
I stood in our bedroom doorway one day and stared, silently watching the two of them sleep. I tried to memorize the way my little boy’s three-year-old arm wrapped under his daddy’s shallow pick-marked cheeks and how the warm summer sunshine streamed through the lace curtains on our window, casting lacy shadows across the yellow quilt on our bed.
My husband would leave for rehab that afternoon. And time had stopped completely.
My heart—my soul—felt empty as I just stood there. Watching. Staring. Holding the beautiful life I was supposed to be living like a fragile glass ball in my hands.
Even now, thirteen years later, when I close my eyes, I can put myself on the exact day, in the exact moments he left our house for a second stay in rehab. This stay would be followed by a six-month separation while he lived in an addiction three-quarter-way house. And I understand now, this was the day everything began to change.
And a beginning.
For some reason, the song “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol echoed in my ears. Because for years, I thought we could do it all. Everything. On our own. Without anyone or anything.
And maybe it seems like every moment in a marriage to a drug-addicted husband would be awful (and many were), but so many more were breathtakingly beautiful too.
Like buying our first car and marveling at how fancy we were in our very own Nissan Sentra. Like signing the paperwork on our first little house and pinching ourselves because we were homeowners now! Like finding a stray fuzzy, gray kitten on the side of the road and welcoming her home. Like the holy moments of becoming a family together and the memory of staring through our tears into the face of a whole new little person—a piece of us, our son. And like going to IHOP for pancakes at 3 a.m. on our first outing as a family of three.
It was all so beautiful. We had a beautiful life. Not perfect in the slightest, but ours . And this felt like the end.
In that heart-wrenching moment, every feeling inside me wanted to crawl into bed beside the two of them and pretend. Pretend this wasn’t happening. Pretend this wasn’t my life. Pretend I was actually living the glass-ball life—the perfect life I’d been chasing for so long as a family practice doctor with a beautiful family in our fancy home taking fancy vacations with our perfect family photos hanging on the walls of our living room. Happily ever after.
I wanted to forget the entire world and lie there beside my husband, the only man I’d ever loved, with our little boy asleep between us and his chubby baby brother napping in his crib in the nursery next door. I wanted to pretend we were all taking a nap on a Sunday afternoon. And we would wake up and go for a walk and push the double stroller to the park. Then we’d laugh and give our boys underdogs on the swings and spend time together as a family without a care in the world before we came home to make dinner. Together.
I wanted to pretend drugs and alcohol didn’t overshadow everything. I wanted the glass-ball life. I wanted it all. I wanted so badly to pretend. But I didn’t.
This was the day I stopped pretending.
Brené Brown calls this the unraveling. She says the unraveling is “a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.”
Who you actually are.
I certainly wanted to pretend. But that day, in an act of unparalleled courage and utter defeat, I opened my clenched fists. And released it. All. I let go.
“Then I dropped to my hands and knees and began sifting. I fumbled through the broken shards of my life looking for anything I chose to remain in a life I wanted to live.”
I chose Jesus.
And the beautiful life that was supposed to be crashed to the wood floor and shattered into a hundred million pieces. I stood for just a moment with the soul-crushing agony of my empty hands. My heart stripped. Bare. With all the broken bits of life scattered at my feet.
I stood in my unraveling.
Then I dropped to my hands and knees and began sifting. I fumbled through the broken shards of my life looking for anything I chose to remain in a life I wanted to live.
I chose Jesus.
I chose Love.
I chose Mercy and Peace.
I chose Gentleness and Grace.
I chose Kindness and Patience.
I chose Faith.
Then I gently rose on shaky legs and tucked all those broken bits carefully into my pocket. And I began again. I lived. I prayed and worked and laughed and loved and left my hands open and free. I embraced ordinary.
Day after day after day I felt those loose pieces tumbling against one another in my pocket. Until years later, many years later, when one day I pulled those broken pieces from my pocket and noticed they’d been worn smooth. And beautiful. Just like sea glass.
We don’t have to spend our days feeling overwhelmed and ashamed and alone. And we no longer have to strive.
We can lay down the endless chase for perfection and embrace this beautiful, messy, mostly ordinary life exactly as it is with our perfect, loving God right by our side. Because when we let go, when we let ourselves unravel to become who we already are in the Lord, a new feeling has room to emerge. And it’s so unmistakable . . . joy.
Turns out there is beauty right here, amid the rubble.
Mikala Albertson is a family practice doctor turned mostly stay-at-home mom who is passionate about the beautiful, messy, and mundane parts of life. She inspires readers on her blog at ordinaryonpurpose.com, where she loves to tell the TRUTH about motherhood and marriage and all things imperfect and utterly ordinary. She lives with her husband and five children just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. In Ordinary on Purpose, Mikala shares her heartfelt journey in a raw and revealing way as she invites you to lay down the endless chase for perfection and embrace this beautiful, messy, ordinary life exactly as it is with our perfect, loving God right by your side.
(Our humble thanks to Bethany House Publishers for partnership in this devotional today.)