Divorce

How Is This My Life?

Yesterday, I said it again: This is not how I pictured my life.  It’s a phrase I have uttered far too many times over the past several years.

I’m not the type of girl that overly fantasized about how my life would look when I grew up.  I didn’t cut photos from magazines of my dream wedding. I didn’t see 2.5 children, one of them definitely a girl, living in a large house with a picket fence. I didn’t picture what my husband would look like or what career he would have or whether we would have a dog or a cat.

I had some assumptions. I assumed I would be married. Forever. I assumed I would have children, and yes, even assumed at least one would be a girl. I assumed I would have a short career and then transition to being a stay-at-home mom with a healthy volunteer resume to boot. I assumed I would be happy. My husband would be happy. My children would be happy. And all of us would be healthy.

In my mind’s eye, my life would look like this: my husband and I would drive together to our son’s soccer game. We’d cheer for our son together. We would take him and his three brothers out to eat after his game.Together. In one car. I’d ask my husband about his day and he would ask about mine. We would celebrate our son’s victory as he would tell us both – at the same time – about the kid who kept trash talking him on the field. We’d smile at one another and everyone would be content. It’s not too much to ask. It’s not a wild daydream. Families live like this everyday. Mine was supossed to.

Reality, however, does not mimic that picture. Last year, while sitting at my youngest son’s soccer game, my boyfriend and I took our seats on the far end of the bleachers. Soon, my ex-husband rolled up in his wheelchair and stopped next to us. A few minutes later, I heard a familiar voice and glanced back to see me ex-boyfriend sitting behind us. I laughed at it then, mainly out of awkward discomfort. I laugh at it now because it makes for a ridiculous story and I love ridiculous stories… even if I do sound a bit like a floozy.

I’ve written about this notion of life not turning out the way it was supposed to: https://lynnhouse.wordpress.com/2016/11/24/a-real-life-thanksgiving/ and I know I am not alone. So often I hear some variation of this phrase uttered from friends who are going through a divorce or the death of a loved one or some other traumatic incident. “How is this my life?” they ask.

This is exactly what I said to my friends yesterday as we sat by the pool catching up on each others’ lives. I told them about my son’s 20th birthday and how my ex-husband joined us for dinner. This is a rare event as he spends most days comletely bedridden from  a rapidly progressive stage of multiple sclerosis. As we sat at a local restaurant, it all seemed so normal as the banter from our boys bounced back and forth across the table. When our food arrived, things ceased normalcy. As he looked at his salmon and quinoa, my ex-husband asked one of the boys to feed him as he is incapable of moving his hands to his mouth. It seemed silly for my son to get up from across the table to feed him, so I offered to do it instead as I was seated next to him. Our four boys carried on eating and talking and laughing as I fed their father.

I told my friends that I can’t quite put words to the feelings I had around this situation. I don’t talk about the pain of our divorce much any more. Partly because it’s been eight years since he moved out, and partly because I don’t know how to share my truth about it without getting in to details that are not mine to share. Needless to say, divorce incites the kind of pain that causes your heart to PHYSICALLY HURT. The kind of pain that you hope no other loved one will ever have to experience because you don’t know how you possibly went through the deepest of pain without actually dying. But in some mysterious way, the pain ends up settling and you go about doing things  you never thought you would do. Like feeding your ex-hiusband his dinner at your son’s 20th birthday party. You do it not to be a martyr and for others to recognize what a big person you are. (The irony of sharing it here is not lost on me, but getting kudos is not my intention.) You do it because you find a way to love again. Despite all of the pain or anger or sadness, you love again because love is freedom and  the alternative is too dark a place to stay.

I wish I had a way to speed along the heartache for those of you who find yourselves asking how your life turned out this way. I know that the garment of grief is heavy; my hope is that you will not stay under its weight for long. I hope that ultimately you will understand that love provides the strength you need to shed the burden you carry. Real, honest love, that is. It cannot be manufactured. It cannot be hurried. But it can be cultivated. So when you fall into some weird scenario like feeding your ex-husband you can practice choosing love. You can do the thing you never thought you would do, the thing you never pictured when you assumed life would deal you a different hand. And in time, my friend, I think you will see that it is love that allows you to move through these questions and realize that althougth things look different, you are still okay.

 

Categories: Divorce, Friends and Family, Marriage | Leave a comment

Who Asked You?

I’m not very good at taking constructive criticism. Sometimes because of pride. Mostly because of shame.

Today is one of those days I’ve struggled with shame part. I had warned the boys that we would be going to church this morning. It’s sad that I use the word “warned,” but we’ve gotten out of any sort of routine when it comes to church. Most Sundays when they are not at their dad’s, we elect to sleep in or have “house church,” where we gather together in the family room, read from the Bible and then discuss what we’ve read. We pray together, and we’re done.

But I miss church sometimes. And I miss them going with me. So I warned them because I knew they would whine and come up with 101 excuses not to go. After some arguing and quite frankly some manipulating on my part,  two out of the four actually made it to church.

As for the other two:  one was downright obstinate and church attendance is not a battle in which I wish to enter because I never want my kids to have a bitter taste for faith resulting from being forced into attendance. In other words, I wasn’t willing to totally guilt him into coming with us, especially at his age where he is trying to figure out his faith journey separate from his parents.  The other objector had been coughing up a storm — and nobody wants to sit next to a hacker at church, or anywhere for that matter.

After church, I took the youngest to the NCAA Hall of Champions because he has been asking to do something fun all weekend  and I hate the idea of him sitting in front of the TV or playing video games when he’s begging for an engaging outlet. The second-born has been asking to take his bike to the repair shop so when I returned from the field trip with my youngest, I had  the second-born load his bike in the car. Then the oldest remembered he needed to pick up his guitar, and he wanted to get more driving hours in, so the three of us set off on some errands.

We were just a block from returning home when the oldest, still driving, got too close to another car and clipped the side mirror. We pulled over and rang various neighbors’ door bells to find the owner of the car so we could bear the bad news and offer to pay for damages and exchange insurance information.

By the time I walked in the front door with groceries that my boys did not offer to carry, I was spent. Haggard. Irritable.  Truthfully… I was ready to rip a head off of one of the mice, hiding under my stove, with my bare hands. From the whining about church to the lack of gratitude for being taken to places they asked to go,  to the downright sense of entitlement, I was done.

I walked into the kitchen and looked up and down in disgust at the dirty dishes piled in my sink. I passed the pile of clothes that needed to be put into the washer, and sneered at them. I threw my phone and keys on my bed, not caring if they bounced off and hit the hardwood floors, and I entered my bathroom where I turned on the water to fill my solitary, serene claw foot tub to the hottest temperature possible.

And there I sat and read my book about India. A book that had nothing to do with church, or errands, or car accidents or children with attitudes. I read until my toes looked like the tread on my winter tires.

My boyfriend is smart. He knew it was best to leave me alone.  So he waited. And several minutes after he heard the bathwater drain, he knocked on the door. By then I was in some comfy clothes propped against some pillows in my bed. He sat on the edge of the bed, and started with “You’re a good mom.” And, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.” And then, “I know you are overwhelmed.”

My arms crossed against my chest. I set my jaw forward. And I set up every invisible wall I have ever constructed for a time like this. What followed was not comfortable. But it wasn’t horrible either. He offered insights on what he saw in my boys and what he thought they really needed from me. None of it was new to me but it was now that I needed to hear it. A lone tear ran down my cheek as I dismissed the defensive linemen around my heart so I could receive the advice he lovingly offered.

Being a single mom is hard. It’s damn hard. When a married woman wonders how she’s going to survive when her husband is out of town for a week,  I try not to throw myself a pity-party knowing that single-parenting is my story every week. Nearly every day of every week, there is no spouse to help with the day-in/day-out —  wake up calls, laundry washing/drying/sorting/folding, breakfast feeding, lunch packing, dinner making, dish washing, grocery shopping, sports-practice running, game attending, band transporting, cheerleading, new shoe shopping, teacher conferencing, homework checking, shower demanding, teeth-brush reminding, full-time working — duties.

And sometimes it wears. me. out. Sometimes I’m too worn down from my children’s complaints, that I give in when I shouldn’t. Sometimes I’m in such desperate need of peace and quiet that I retreat to my bedroom instead of engaging in conversation with my children.

So we single moms (or dads) beat ourselves up an awful lot because we let our boundaries slide or our discipline tank. But thankfully I am fortunate to have a strong man in my life who loves my boys and is willing to step up more if I give him permission. And I have an ex-husband who is active in my boys’ lives and who parents them well… because, my Dear Readers, I can’t do this alone.

I thank my boyfriend for reminding me of that tonight. I didn’t ask him for his advice and I certainly didn’t ask him to do my dishes or make my kids dinner. But he did it because he knew I was swimming in a sea of disappointment and shame that I had not handled my children differently today. He knew that I wanted to have better boundaries and parent with grace instead of with disdain.

If you know a single parent, I encourage you to ask her what she (or he) needs. And ask more than once. Because there will be times when she has all of her plates masterfully spinning in the air without so much as a bobble. But ask again and you may find her slumped over a heap of broken dishes wet from her tears. That is the time she will know she cannot do this parenting thing alone. So pick something practical from the list below and take a bit of the load off –  even if she didn’t ask you.

  1. Make her family dinner. There’s nothing like coming home from work knowing dinner is a ready to heat and eat.
  2. Ask to come visit then unload and load her dishes (or hand wash if she doesn’t have a dishwasher).
  3. Pick her child up from practice or school and, depending on the age, either watch the child at your house for a while, or drop the child off at home.
  4. If she has more than one child, ask if you can help one of them do homework while she helps the other.
  5. Take a load of her laundry home and wash it, dry it and return it folded.
  6. Babysit her children while she takes a nap. Or a bath. Or runs to the store alone.
  7. If her kids go to her ex-spouse’s for a night ask her to do something fun together. Since being single, chances are she doesn’t go out as much any more.
  8. Call her to see if she needs anything when you are running to the grocery and drop off her items on your way home.
  9. If she has a sick child, deliver Gatorade, crackers, Tylenol, etc. Or see if she needs a prescription picked up from the pharmacy.
  10. Pack her kids lunches for the week and deliver them to her labeled and ready to go.

 

Categories: Divorce, Faith, Friends and Family, Parenting Boys | Leave a comment

Faith Like a Child

One morning at the ranch, my 13-year-old, Eli, led devotions on the porch of our cabin. He had us read I Thessalonians 5:16-18 and then, based on a question from his teen devotional Bible, he asked us to list ways God had been good to us. I gave each boy a piece of paper and told them to write 10 things that showed  how God had been good to them.

My youngest deep in thought

I participated, too. My list was made up of bullet points with things like •the gift of my children •the beauty of the mountains •my job, etc. I am truly grateful for every thing I listed, and I believe they are all ways that God has shown me He is good. But I didn’t spend a great deal of time thinking through my list.

My youngest son, on the other hand, thought long and hard as he created his list. There were no bullet points. No sentence fragments. He called me over to him a few times to ask for help, long after I had put my Bible and notebook back in the cabin. One particular sentence caught my breath. He had written, “That we get to see our mom and dad even when they are divorced.”

“Is that okay?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded. “That is definitely one way God has shown you He is good. Some kids don’t get to see one of their parents when there is a divorce. But you know that both Dad and I love you so much and want to spend time with you. Even though divorce is not what God intended for us, and I’m pretty sure it’s not what any of us truly wanted, God is still showing His goodness through it by the way he cares and provides for you.”

Although I felt liked I stumbled through my explanation, he seemed to agree and went back to writing. Pretty soon he called to me, “Mom, do we have to pay for me to play soccer and baseball?”

I tell him yes and then I hear him say as he writes his next sentence. “That we have enough money for me to play soccer and baseball.”

When I walked over to him a few minutes later, I see how specific he has been in his list. He has mentioned his baseball games in detail, the two families from Tulsa, Oklahoma, that we met in Colorado three years ago and continue to vacation with each year at the ranch, his school and his friends…and then he says to me, “I saved the best one for last.”

“What’s that?” I asked, as I waited for him to write it on his paper.

“That I can be a Christian,” he said with a smile.

He gets it, this child of mine. He understands God’s goodness in every part of his life, even in the pain he has experienced (our divorce). But even more, he gets that being a Christian is not just some label we slap on ourselves. It’s not something he was born with or became just because that’s what his parents are. It’s something he got to choose. And he has chosen it. The evidence of Christ in his life is apparent in the way he loves other and the way he reflects the kindness and grace of Christ. This boy of mine is a constant encouragement to me.

After he finished, we walked back into the cabin together. He tucked his paper inside his Bible, puts it on the table and ran back outside to join his brothers. I grabbed my notebook and opened it up to my list. I added number 11: “I know that God is good to me because I get to witness how He is working in Jaden’s life.”

Categories: Divorce, Faith, Friends and Family, Parenting Boys, Vacation | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

In a Word: Clamor

I’m going to do it. I’m going to do one of those things I said I would never do. I’m going to start a post with the definition of a word. Ahhck! I feel so uncreative. So weak. So … so insipid. But here it goes.

The word is clamor. Dictionary.com defines clamor as:

noun
1. a loud uproar, as from a crowd of people: the clamor of the crowd at the gates.
2. a vehement expression of desire or dissatisfaction: the clamor of the proponents of the law.
3. popular outcry: The senators could not ignore the clamor against higher taxation.
4. any loud and continued noise: the clamor of traffic; the clamor of birds and animals in the zoo.
verb (used without object)
5. to make a clamor; raise an outcry.

verb (used with object)
6. to drive, force, influence, etc., by clamoring: The newspapers clamored him out of office.
7. to utter noisily: They clamored their demands at the meeting.

Now, having defined the word, I confess:  I clamor. It seems to be my word of the week, or perhaps the month, or – God, help me – my life. Clamor. That’s what I do. And maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least not all the time.

May Wright Sewall, a suffragist from Indianapolis, once read a petition she was about to sign regarding temperance. The petition stated that those who signed that petition would agree not to clamor for more political or civil rights. At that, Sewall declared, “But I do clamor.”

She was not content with the conditions that were put upon women of that time. So she refused to sign the petition, and she continued to clamor. Thankfully so. She became an instrumental force for change in this city.

Unlike Sewall, however, my clamoring is not so civic minded. My clamoring is more personal. More internal. I defined the word because of the emphasis put on the noise, uproar and outcry. That’s exactly what is happening inside of me. As I travel the road of healing from my divorce, I find that there is a constant outcry inside. An uproar that things are not like they should be. Or maybe I’m not yet as I should be.

This week I was hit by another wave of grief. I had a doctor’s appointment in the building where my ex-husband and I used to go for my OB check-ups. As I walked into the building, I was flooded with memories of those times when we were best friends, excited about the future as we added to our family. Now I was entering the building alone for a procedure that had me fairly concerned. The contrast was profound. At first I tried to ignore the pain. But when I was back in my car, alone and quiet, I let the mourning commence again. The tears came in a steady stream and I felt the clamoring begin… the “vehement expression of desire or dissatisfaction.”

Funny that the definition uses the words “desire” and “dissatisfaction.” Clamoring goes both ways. This week, while my boys have been with their father, the clamoring inside has been far more noticeable. At times I’ve tried to rise above it, to suck it up or to learn how to be content. During other moments I have tried to claw out of it by various means that are not healthy or helpful. Mostly what I’ve discerned is that the deep longing is not going away. And that’s okay. It’s okay to want more. It’s a sign that I’m still healing. And it’s an indication that the God who loves me fiercely is not going to let me stay the way I am. In fact, I believe it’s the gift of his spirit that allows me to feel the dissatisfaction AND the desire to be more.

More than the woman I think I am sometimes.

Something for which I will never stop clamoring: coffee.

More than a divorcee.

More than broken.

More than a friend.

More than my smile.

More than middle-aged.

More than a mother.

More than my losses.

More than a writer.

More than my mistakes.

More than even my victories.

More than.

More.

Categories: Divorce, Faith, Marriage | Tags: , | 11 Comments

Where No One Knows Your Name

That’s a depressing title, isn’t it? Sorry if you came here for a laugh or silly entertainment. Some of my posts are heavy, and I assure you this is one of them.

I haven’t spoken about my divorce much. Mostly because the topic cannot be contained in a post. But, there’s something about my divorce that compels me to write. There’s a specific topic I can not ignore. It’s one of the many feelings that comes with the territory. Yet it’s a word we toss around so much it has lost its meaning.

Loneliness.

I had an image – a mind picture – the other day as I walked to work. It gave me such an accurate way to describe loneliness.

I was somersaulting through space. I wasn’t spinning out of control. Nor was I in slow motion. Everything around me was dark, but somehow I could see other people somersaulting past me. I had no voice, but I knew that even if I did have a voice, no one could hear me.

I desperately wanted to to make myself flip closer to someone. Anyone. But I couldn’t control where I was headed.  I was simply flipping through this abyss with nowhere to land.

I remember thinking that this is what it feels like to be lonely. To be in the vicinity of others but unable to touch anyone else.

This is what loneliness is, I thought. A dark abyss where no one can do so much as even bump into me. Not even a slight brush against my hand or my face.

Tears started to slip over my lower lashes. I wanted someone to bump into me. Someone to call out my name. But I was in a place where  no one knew my name. We were all just fellow travelers on a journey, wondering if we would ever see light again. Ever feel the warmth of another human being, or the sweet sound of our names being spoken.

That is what loneliness feels like in this place called Divorce.

In reality, I have friends who know more than just my name. I have 900 friends or so on Facebook. I have met every single one of those people. They may not be close friends. Perhaps they are merely acquaintances but nonetheless we have some sort of connection. In all of those “friends,” I still find myself in that abyss from time to time. Even with the love of my close friends and support of some of these Facebook friends, who encourage me from afar, I still feel the intensity of loneliness.

Today is one of those days. I have spent much of it in tears. One of my dear friends has asked me to join her for coffee. She wants to know if I need to talk. It may have alleviated some of the loneliness, at least momentarily. But the kind of loneliness that comes from death, divorce or some other loss leaves a deep gash in the heart that will not be healed by short conversations over coffee. So, today I let myself somersault through the abyss. When I finally stopped flipping long enough to dry my tears and read a bit about how God’s love for me reaches through these dark places, I sat down to write this. Finally.

I must write. For no other reason than to write about loneliness. And maybe so that someone out there suffering from loneliness in a world filled with people, activities and responsibilities, they can feel that someone has at least tried to bump into them out there in that dark abyss.

Categories: Divorce, Faith, Writing | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

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