I’ve been thinking a lot about fairytales lately.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how there’s really no such thing as a fairytale, if there’s not a villain. Cinderella had the wicked stepmother and evil sisters who made her life a living hell; Sleeping Beauty had Maleficent to contend with; Snow White had the wicked queen trying to murder her because of jealousy; Rapunzel had her kidnapper brainwashing her and keeping her captive for her own selfish gain.
Villains are what make a fairytale a fairytale. How boring would it be if the story went like this….And then Cinderella met a prince and they lived happily ever after, or, Sleeping Beauty lived in a beautiful castle her whole life then she met a prince and they got married and lived a perfect life. Um, hello, that’s totally boring and not intriguing at all. Or how about this—Snow White lived in the castle with her father and was the most beautiful girl in the whole land and she married a prince. Again, boring.
So all these deep thoughts led me to the realization that without a villain, a story can’t even qualify as a fairytale, which then made me think about our story.
For some reason, becoming a wife and a mother, has forced me to look back at my life and see things from a different perspective. You see, all this thinking about fairytales made me realize that without a villain, there would be no CC and Mike and that epiphany made me want to write our story — for you, for me, and for our children and grandchildren one day to read. Because I truly believe one of the most important lessons you can learn in life, is that even your greatest pain can be redeemed and can lead you to something beautiful. Learning this crucial life lesson, will help one move from a place of bitterness and anger, to a place of forgiveness and healing.
I grew up in the small, southeastern Oklahoma town of McAlester, Oklahoma. I was the youngest of three preacher’s daughters, a happy little girl who loved to play in the woods behind our house, ride my bike around town, play sports, and build forts in the tree behind our house. Looking back, I would say I was sheltered. My parents sent me to the small Christian school associated with the church my dad preached at; and by small I mean there were eight people in my eighth grade graduating class.
Meanwhile, Mike Miller was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, living the city life at one of the biggest public schools in the state.
Tulsa was like a magical place to me growing up. We went there once a year and stayed in a hotel that looked like a castle. We went to a movie and ate at Red Lobster and if I’m being honest, I felt like people who lived in Tulsa were famous or something. Little did I know all those years we came up and visited Tulsa, that my future husband was a mile down the street from that little movie theatre we always visited at 71st & Memorial.
Days before my eleventh birthday, my happy, safe, and secure childhood was disrupted forever. My mom went to the grocery store and never came home. An evil man—the villain of our story I guess you could say—hid in the back of her minivan with a hunting knife. He stabbed her repeatedly and left her lying in a ditch, bleeding to death. My mom’s attempted murder and even the years after, were a dark period of my life marked by confusion and pain I was incapable of understanding as an 11 year old little girl. I remember lying awake at night and staring at my window, wondering if the man who tried to kill my mom would come for me. I remember feeling unsafe and unprotected. I remember feeling very alone. I told no one of course. I didn’t know how to tell anyone. When your mom is almost murdered and is fighting for her life, that takes precedence over all. I realize now, that I didn’t even know what I was feeling, much less know how to express those feelings to someone else. I was numb. I was dying inside.
I look back now and wonder when it was that I became angry. I can’t really remember. But somewhere along the way I became very, very angry. I started acting out. I was confused, rebellious, and like I said—a very angry teenage girl. As a parent now, I cringe when I remember things that I said and did. One time in an argument with my mom, I looked at her and told her I wanted to go to hell because I would rather be there then spend eternity in heaven if she was going to be there. It pains me to write that even now. It’s the worst thing I have ever said to anyone in my life and I can’t imagine hearing my 14 year old daughter speak those words to me; it would break my heart into a million pieces. I look back and realize now, that I was oh so lost; and above all else, I was bitter and angry. The anger was eating away at my soul, and I was at risk of becoming lost… forever.
I don’t remember when I started sneaking out. I guess it was a few months into my freshman year of high school. I was grounded off and on for almost 9 months straight and I was miserable. I am an extremely social person and I was a prisoner, or so I convinced myself. So, I started sneaking out. At first it was just to go to an occasional forbidden party but then it turned into twice a week or three times or maybe even four. I was partying. I was going out with guys 3 and 4 years older than me that I had no business hanging out with. My grades started to suffer. I had never had a B in my entire life but when my report card showed up, I had a D in two classes.
I was slipping away. I looked in the mirror and no longer recognized the happy, little girl who was so full of energy and life and happiness. In her place stood a jaded, confused, and angry teenager taking her first steps down a precarious road that would have no doubt, led to a lifetime full of heartache.
One day in early February—my parents had just lifted my latest grounding which lasted several months—my friend called to tell me she was going to come pick me up to go play basketball with a bunch of our guy friends. We talked for a few minutes and she told me she came to sneak me out the night before and tapped on my window, but I wasn’t there. I told her I’d already snuck out earlier that night and went into details about where I was, what I’d done, and who I was with. Then, she hung up and came to pick me up.
We went out to my friend’s house—where I was not supposed to go by the way—to pick up her basketball shoes. I was standing upstairs looking out her window when I saw a blue Ford Taurus driving up the dirt road going 70 miles an hour. I knew it was my dad and I knew I was in trouble—major trouble. He walked into the house without an invitation, grabbed me by my arm and dragged me to the backseat of the blue, Ford Taurus. Then, we drove in tense silence to our church. We walked into my dad’s office and there was my mom, sitting at a table with tears running down her face. A tiny device sat on the table—a tape recorder. I sat down and they pressed play.
I will never forget that moment, listening to the tape recorder play back my voice with my parents listening to every incriminating word I spoke. I realized with horror, that our answering machine kicked on and recorded my entire conversation with my friend. I sat there, completely numb, and listened to my voice speak words I would never want anyone to hear, much less my parents. I listened to my own voice talk about sneaking out and partying and hooking up with a guy that was far too old for me. As I listened to the words, I knew it was me speaking, but the person I heard was a complete stranger. In that moment, I realized I no longer recognized the person on the tape recorder. I was completely lost. I was a stranger. I was no longer me.
My parents hit the stop button and looked at me with pain in their eyes. They were undoubtedly heartbroken. I will never forget my mom looking at me and saying, “I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.”
“I have to leave,” I told her. “I need to leave McAlester.”
As an adult, I now know that I needed to leave McAlester for reasons I didn’t understand when I was only 15 years old. I don’t know that I can even explain it but the pain of my mom’s attack was everywhere there for me. I dealt with it by trying to forget it and by trying to block it out but the reminders were always there. My mom was doing well and had healed. She even gave speeches on forgiveness and healing. Meanwhile, I was broken inside and angry. I remember hearing her talk about forgiving and feeling mad. I guess I wasn’t ready to forgive. I wanted to forget, not forgive. And leaving McAlester was the best way to forget.
We went home and my mom made several phone calls to aunts and a friend. It was decided that my aunt and uncle in Dallas would take me in. We packed up a few suitcases and my mom and dad drove me to Dallas.
Everything is different when you become a parent. Now my heart hurts when I think about what my mom must have gone through, moving her 15 year old daughter to live 4 hours away in a time where there was no cell phones, no Skype, and no FaceTime. She was telling me goodbye. I have talked to her about it since then and she told me God told her she had to let me go. I was like the prodigal son and she prayed every day I would return.
When I moved to Dallas, it was decided I would attend Garland Christian Academy. Garland Christian Academy was good for me. I made new friends who were good influences for me and were strong in their faith. I went to a summer camp called Summer in the Son and there, I rededicated my life. I realized I was heading down a path I didn’t want to go down and I made the choice to change. I decided I wanted to live a good life, and made the choices I needed to make to redirect my path. My pain and anger lessened. Some would have even thought it was gone. But it was just hidden.
I loved my school and my friends in Dallas. I had a boyfriend. I played three sports. I loved my life with my aunt and uncle. I wanted to graduate from Garland Christian Academy. I planned to finish out my high school career there and graduate from GCA. But then, one day, my mom called.
“We’re moving to Tulsa Carissa. We understand if you want to stay in Dallas but we want you to know we’d love to have you come with us.”
No way. I’m not leaving Dallas. I’m not leaving my friends. I immediately made my mind up that I wasn’t going.
But God had other plans for my life.
I told my mom no but in my heart I kept hearing this annoying voice, “Go.” That’s all I heard, a faint whisper in my soul, “Go Carissa.”
I pushed the annoying voice away. I was staying in Dallas.
But I couldn’t stop hearing the voice. “Go,” it quietly whispered.
Finally, I called my mom. “Mom, I’m coming to Tulsa with you guys,” I told her.
My friends in Dallas threw me the most epic goodbye party ever. The whole school was there and they locked arms and sang Michael W. Smith’s “Friends Are Friends Forever” and we bawled like babies.
Then I left Dallas, a changed person yes, but still—underneath it all—a little bit broken.
At this point in our story, I have to pause and talk about Mike Miller’s childhood which I would describe as safe and secure. You lived in the exact same house. You were a rule follower, other than that one time you egged a neighbors house with your two best friends. You had two loving parents and a sister; two best friends who you grew up with and played with every day; and a baseball team you loved playing on. You went to church every Sunday at South Tulsa Baptist. You were a little bit shy and didn’t ask girls out. Your life was—perhaps—safe and predictable. Little did you know, a tornado was about to come into your world in the form a 5’10” tall dark-skinned, loud-mouthed, complicated—maybe even a bit broken—girl, who was anything but predictable.
The week before my senior year I had to go up to the school to prepare for Student Council Back to School week.
I will never forget driving my purple Chevy Cavalier down the winding road that led to the entrance of Union High School on Mingo Avenue. I had the windows rolled down, my sun roof was up, and I had my favorite sunglasses on. I pulled up to Mingo and heard a loud thumping noise that, no doubt, caught my attention. I looked up to see an emerald green Dodge Ram pick up truck. I remember thinking it was the fanciest pickup truck I’d ever seen in my life. I noticed a Union baseball tag on the front and I’m not going to lie, I was intrigued. As you approached, I saw your left blinker was on and you were pulling into the school; your window was rolled down and your left arm was propped up on the window. You started pulling into the school and our eyes met for the first time. It’s a moment I will never forget. It was inexplicable. I look back and I realize that in that moment, I knew my life had just changed forever.
Union High School was a huge school. You were a year younger than me—a junior—so it was another two months before we actually met. That meeting—when your childhood friend and next door neighbor invited me over to his house—was somehow orchestrated by something far greater than us, I now know.
“Hey. I have someone I want you to meet.” He walked me upstairs and into his bedroom. You were laying on the bed in a position of complete indifference, arms behind your head and your massive frame filling up his twin size bed. You didn’t even get up when he introduced us. Something about you drove me crazy. Who am I kidding? Everything about you drove me crazy. Especially the fact that you seemed completely unfazed by me.
We fought our feelings for awhile but it was inevitable we would end up together. There was a force that was calling us toward each other from the second we first laid eyes on each other in the Union High School parking lot; or perhaps, it was calling us toward one another far before that.
Perhaps it was calling me to you even when I was a little girl. Perhaps that happy, secure, and safe little girl who was traumatized by a villain, was always meant to go on this tumultuous path that would eventually land her in Tulsa, Oklahoma, into the arms of a boy who made her feel safe, loved, and protected, even in spite of her brokenness. Perhaps everything I went through, even the pain, was always leading me to you.
It’s a beautiful thing, this journey called life, when you come to a place where you can look back, and you are at peace with your pain. I am at peace with mine, because it led me to you. So yes, there is a villain in our story and pain and anger and confusion but there is also a happily ever after. And I thank God everyday for our fairytale, villain and all.
YOU, Mike Miller, are my happily ever after. You are my happy ending.
Happy Valentine’s Day 2017.
PS – Remember that card you gave me in high school? When you signed it “Looking forward to forever with you?” I’m still looking forward to forever with you.