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The Gift of the Cockroach

We were comfortable in our little apartment. Two bedrooms, a convenient location not far from where we both grew up, and cozy. It was our first place together- more importantly, it was our first safe place together (more on that another time). We brought home our beloved rescue dog there; all 72 lbs of her. My husband Adam brought me to that apartment first as his girlfriend, then as his fiancé, a year later as his wife, and nine-and-a-half months after that as the mother of our son. It wasn’t perfect but it was comfortable.

I didn’t see the rut we were in

We lived on the 7th floor of the building where the elevators never seemed to work consistently, so while my husband was at work, I could be seen carrying our one-year-old son, our dog’s leash in the other hand, and my big, round belly in which was growing our daughter up and down flights of stairs.

My teeth were gritted to withstand the pain of carrying the weight of it all while grappling with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction. My husband and I decided we would never let inconvenience stop us from pursuing our dreams, but I do admit to several instances of stopping to rest in the stairwell with tears streaming down my face. Somehow, I still didn’t see the rut.

My husband was doing well at work, and I was enrolled in nursing school and had a part-time job. We were active in our inner-city ministry and busy with two children under two years old. We did not mind living simply while growing our family, probably because we were so grateful our relationship had survived a most tumultuous courtship (again friends, another time). I suppose this is where the bad seed took root: there is always a downside to survival.

Clinging to safety

Our little apartment, our small budget, and financial survival were the first sight of land after surviving shipwreck, and we clung to those things for safety. We adopted a scarcity mentality and had forgotten the notion of living life abundantly. Important “grown up” tasks were put off: estate planning for our children, life insurance, saving for a home, even saving for a new couch that we desperately needed all took a back seat to student loans, paying for my college education, and starting our family.

We thought we were fine because we were never late on rent, never short on groceries, and we decided not to invest in frivolous expenses. We put all our hard work into getting out of student debt and growing our family. I can say with confidence that this was the best decision for our family: we figured out what was important to us and curtailed our finances to meet our values. However, somewhere along the way we abandoned notions of prosperity and settled for survival. We were comfortable in our survival.

Cracks started to form in our little world

When my husband received a promotion and an opportunity to relocate our family down South, we were grateful. COVID-19 government restrictions prevented us from travelling to our new city to look for a place to live and I was just two months postpartum and still healing from delivery when we moved, so we moved into an apartment sight unseen. The place was generally within the same budget as our original apartment, and we did not bother to consider my husband’s pay raise when searching for a place. We did not factor in his perfect credit score or the new room we had in our budget. We figured we could do what we had always done: survive. That would be enough for us. Boy, were we wrong!

The moment we pulled into the new apartment our hearts individually sank, but we plastered fake smiles on our faces and did our best to romanticize our new digs. The place was dark, dingy, damp, and unwelcoming. Our neighbors were immediately suspicious of us, and the racial tensions that loomed over many communities that summer did not help our situation.

Cockroaches arrived

We may have been working within the same budget as our beloved little apartment, but this setup was a whole lot different than the one we had left back home in Ohio. I was actively ignoring clear signs of Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety in myself. I asked my doctor to order bloodwork because I thought my malady was purely physical.  I foolishly thought I could not possibly focus on my own needs when my family needed me to help us adjust to our new home. Looking back, I was a disaster. I was not hiding my conditions well, nor was I much emotional help to my family.

The only time I felt like myself was when I would go into my children’s nursery and tuck them into my arms and soothe them. Holding them and loving on them was when I felt somewhat normal again. In those moments I clung to the little confidence I had left, because I was good at loving on my babies. Survival does not leave much room for thriving, so I convinced myself that just getting through every day was enough to keep us going. That’s when the cockroaches arrived.

I was failing. We were failing.

I was sitting on the hard floor folding laundry. It’s tough to get furniture delivered during a global pandemic. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something crawling on the clothes. When I realized what it was, I did the brave thing and screamed until my husband came to my rescue. Then I sobbed. Crawling over my babies’ clothes was a hideous cockroach, and I knew there were more where that little bugger came from.

Bells and whistles and the voice of my very loud guardian angel went off in my head when I saw the bug on my children’s belongings: as a mama, my priority is to keep my children safe, clean, healthy, and thriving. I had settled for survival, and I was failing. Still, we convinced ourselves that we were living in a new terrain, and bugs were a common part of this new place. We were kidding ourselves.

Not long after that, my husband found the black colored mold. Cockroaches are attracted to damp environments, so our apartment was the perfect place for them to infest. The leasing company refused to rectify the situation, and our children were becoming ill from the environment.

The climax came the day I stood in a torrential downpour because we could not stand to be inside our apartment except for sleeping and working, hysterically pleading with the leasing company to fix the living conditions in our apartment. They refused, so I wiped my tears and cited housing codes instead. We were promptly released from our lease agreement.

God provided us a way out

Nurse the baby.  Load a few boxes.  Nurse the baby again.  Load more boxes.  This was how we packed to move again.  We worked through the night since we knew no one who could help watch our toddler while we packed up our life again.  Looking back on that time now from our beautiful new home, it seems almost surreal.  God refused to let us be comfortable in our rut any longer, and in His mercy, He provided us a way out.  It is amazing how quickly you can be released from a lease when you threaten to put your rent payment into escrow instead of the pocket of a landlord.

We spent the next few months overhauling our marriage.  I sought help in various forms for my postpartum issues, I got a job I love working from home for a ministry in the pro-life movement, we sought good counsel, and we re-worked our budget to bless our family.  We bought a beautiful home, and we are learning how to venture forth as a family.  It has not been easy work, but we have learned to stop praying for comfort in our complacency.

Let God help

Every marriage has cockroaches- those awful, crawling symptoms of things that are not quite right, but can wind up blessing the family if confronted and dealt with. 

Whatever yours are, I pray you find the willingness to look past them and find the mold.  It is messy, ugly work, but untold blessings await those who allow God to deal with the mess.  He created cockroaches, after all.  He is not as skittish as we are.  He can handle them, and with Him, we can handle them, too.

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