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Shackles Called Shame

Sometimes I wonder if shame is outside my back door doing pushups, ready to pounce when I open the door. Waiting to hold me down and shackle me as a prisoner who cannot move or even speak.

Of the negative emotions I have ever felt, shame is by far the most powerful. Yesterday my lack of timely communication caused a rift in one of my relationships. When I admitted how I had screwed up, I fell silent. I sat in discomfort from the reaction I received, which was merited.  I had disappointed and irritated someone who means the world to me and there was not much I could do to make it right. My modus operandi is to explain my behavior away, to detail my excuses, to make a joke – whatever it takes to lighten the grip of these shackles called shame.

No excuse felt worthy. No explanation or joke seemed fair. I had screwed up. As I drove in silence, my thoughts joined a fun, little game called, “How Much Does Lynn Suck?”

In this game, all of my character defects dance across the stage of my mind, accompanied by old tapes that shame keeps on her thumb drive when she decides to be especially injurious:

“You did it again… just like last month when you let So-And-So down.”

“This is why So-and-So didn’t love you.”

“So-and-so left because you couldn’t get your life together.”

“Why wouldn’t you take the time to consider how this was going to affect someone else?”

“You’re so … selfish

      ADD

           Thoughtless

                   Stupid

                            Hopeless”

“You’ll never change.”

As the day grew longer, I could feel myself start to fight against the shackles. I was rising up, ever so slowly. For one, these accusatory tapes that infiltrated my thoughts had to be silenced or I would be stuck for God-knows-how-long in self-loathing and pity.

I hate that I hurt/irritated/angered someone who means so much to me, and I apologized for my carelessness. Yet, if I was going to step out of this and have any chance at restoration in myself and in my relationship, I had to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself not only for messing up, but for letting fear rule me. John Milton once said, “Where shame is, there is also fear.” Ultimately, the old tapes that played in my mind were rooted in fear. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being abandoned.

Years ago I read John Bradshaw’s book, Healing the Shame That Binds You. This quote stuck out to me back then and it resonates with me now,

“To truly be committed to a life of honesty, love and discipline, we must be willing to commit ourselves to reality.”

The reality in my life is that I am going to make mistakes and I am going to disappoint people I care about.  But you know what else is reality? That I am committed to living a life of honesty, love and (sometimes) discipline within that reality. The truth is, I love deeply, and when I give into fear,  I am cheating myself and others of that love. I stay me-focused instead of others-focused. I waste energy fighting for my image and warring against judgment. I wrestle with the uncomfortable feelings rather than sitting with them and accepting them for what they are.

I don’t want to waste that energy any longer. So in surrendering to reality tonight, I spent some time reading and thinking of things that filled my mind with:

Wholeness

Hope

Grace

Peace

Integrity

and most of all – Love – because love contains the key to loosen the shackles called shame.

 

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An Open Letter to Stizzle

Note:  Stizzle and Lizzle are the names my friend and I gave ourselves when someone accidentally mistook us for dancers he had seen somewhere. These are our make-believe stage names. (And no, we were never any kind of dancers. Watch me at a Zumba class and you’ll understand.)

Dear Stizzle,

Last night you told me you didn’t want to live anymore. You have said it before, but this time I could feel the sheer desperation seeping out of your every pore and it scared me. I could not bear the thought of losing you so I asked if you wanted to come spend the night and you answered yes, but  you didn’t think you could get here. So I got in the car and came to you. You sobbed in my arms as I entered your new home, and I held you like a child, your head buried in my shoulder and my arms wrapped tightly around your small, frail frame.

It was Christmas Eve. What happened? How did we get here? Shouldn’t it be one of the happiest times of the year? Shouldn’t we look like we did in those Christmas cards from years past  when we had our four respective children and our handsome husbands draped around us like a cashmere blanket all warm and secure?

Instead you sat on the steps and I plopped on the floor, too tired to find real furniture where normal people would sit. This is triage, I thought; this is where those of us who know suffering come to our broken friends to acknowledge the trauma and help them stay alive. That’s all I could do for you: sit, cry, listen, pray. I’ve been through severe emotional distress, Stiz – as you well know – and this is what broken, f****d up people do for each other. Even on Christmas Eve. Especially on Christmas Eve.

This is how we survive when our husbands have left and the kids are spending the holidays with him this year. This is how we get through the pain of friends who vanished without an explanation because our lives have become too messy for them to handle. This is what we do when our families live too far away or don’t realize the utter pain we live in, and leave us alone to stagger through our shame and grief.

We show up. Sometimes we try to make sense of our lives with words. Sometimes we simply sit with the silence. So that’s what we did.  And after a couple hours, I saw how your eyes grew heavy and I knew it would be safe to leave you as you fell sleep. So I stroked your head for a few minutes and let you snuggle into your bed.

And now, on Christmas Day, you have a few hours of precious time with your kids but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’m convinced it probably never will. But I want to tell you something, Stiz. A miracle happened this morning as my boys gathered around the breakfast table.

For as long as I can remember, we have gone around the table on Christmas morning and gifted each person with words of appreciation and love. Each person has a turn “being it” as the rest of us share what we’ve seen in that person’s life that year. Mostly, with boys, it can be fairly surfacey. They say things like, “I like how you love soccer so much.” Or, “You’re really good with Legos.” But this year something magical happened.

Each of them dove deep into the well of appreciation for their brothers. They talked about each other’s loyalty to their friends, their determination in reaching their goals, and their dedication to each of their crafts as they called them, whether it’s soccer, photography, woodworking or cycling. They mentioned each other’s humility and selflessness. Their humor. Their kindness. Their integrity. One by one, they gave generously with words of pride and admiration for their brothers.

And when it came time for me to be in the “hot-seat”, do you know what they said, Stiz? They said they noticed my strength. My strength! When my boyfriend of five years and I broke up, I didn’t fall completely apart, they said,  although it certainly felt like it. In fact, I felt like I was going through a second divorce and that I was neglecting them when I couldn’t get out of bed or when I ordered carry-out for the third night in a row. But what they saw was that I rose one day – if only for a moment – to fix dinner or drive one to soccer or show up at a cycling race. They saw me caring for them in the midst of a messy house and puffy eyes. They saw that I didn’t hide from pain but that I chose to face it and ride the waves of grief.

One of them told me he has learned from me because I’ve talked openly about how I’ve been trying to fill my life with relationships instead of being okay with myself and that he can see that he does that, too. One mentioned that he appreciates the example I show him in how to love people, like the kids who come in my office at work, or like going to your house last night when you needed a friend. The balance of being a working mom, cooking dinner, talking about real life and cheering them on in their endeavors, despite my emotional pain, did not go unnoticed. Their observations blew me away and humbled me.

I’m confident this will be your narrative one day, too, within the scope of your unique family. When your kids are older, and the dust has settled, they will see how you have risen again in strength. How you have done the best you could do in the deep, deep pain you are living through. One day they will no longer be children, and they will start to see you through the eyes of an adult and truly appreciate that you love them more than they ever knew possible. It won’t happen quickly but I believe that one day, when you have ridden out this vast landscape of sorrow, your children will notice your strength and dignity.

There are more of us, Stiz. More women who live with the effects of trauma and loss and one day you too will sit with one of them on Christmas Eve, and you will be able to tell her that little by little, it does get better. As long as we start making healthy choices and allowing ourselves to feel the pain, it will get better.

While you are waiting for these future miracles, I’ll continue to sit in the mess with you as you and so many others have done with me, and together we will not just stay alive we will find a way to truly live and love again.

I love you!

Lizzle

 

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A Real Life Thanksgiving

I write this as I sit in my ex-husband’s apartment. I brought the boys over to spend some time with him before we head to my brother’s house for our Thanksgiving meal. I hear my four boys playing a game in his bedroom, where he spends the majority of his time these days, battling the debilitating monster called multiple sclerosis.

Yesterday, I sat in this same apartment to visit with his sister and her family who I hadn’t seen since shortly after our divorce. We sat in a circle chatting: my ex-husband, his girlfriend, her daughter, my boys, my ex-sister-in law, her husband, and their two young kids. As my friend Jenni said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

It’s not how life was supposed to turn out. His disease. Our divorce. Raising four boys in separate households. And now awkward visits with former family members I barely know anymore, while sitting next to my ex-husband’s girlfriend on the couch.

But this is real life. And the truth is while my heart breaks for my ex-husband’s hardships, it also overflows with thanksgiving. Today I can sit at his kitchen table knowing we want what is best for one another rather than harboring anger and bitterness over things in our past.  I am thankful for his girlfriend, who I have come to adore, as she helps him in any way she can despite her own heartache over his health. And I thank a gracious God that my boys know that both their dad and I love them deeply despite all of our shortcomings.

When we leave here we will go to my brother’s house for our first Thanksgiving without my dad. Last year at this time, he was able to make it to the table for a few minutes, but barely touched his food. He still had his sense of humor intact but his strength was depleted. We took photos as we knew it would be his last Thanksgiving with us on earth, images we cherish now.

Again, it feels like this is just not the way life was supposed to be. Logically, I know that no one escapes death or the grief that comes with saying goodbye to those we love. But that doesn’t change how I long to have my dad sit around the table again with us tonight. How I long to hear his jokes or his thoughts on the latest book he’s reading. How I long to smell his aftershave when I snuggle next to him on the couch after our meal.

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Last Thanksgiving: my boys and my dad

Yet, I am confident that being with my family will be filled with love, laughter and thankfulness. It’s what we do. We love one another, however imperfectly. We laugh at ourselves and one another (in love, of course). And we always find time to share in thankfulness. We may shed some tears when we consider one less chair at the table but we will offer up our memories and gratitude for having had such a loving, generous man in our lives.

Gratitude allows us to find joy even in the achiness of loss. At its core, my gratitude is rooted in a God who has loved me with a love that is beyond compare. A God who has shown he is trustworthy, and a God who has equipped me with a hope that refuses to leave me crushed, defeated or in despair.

I have no other way to explain how both sorrow and joy can exist together. Life is messy and complicated and painful. But when I trust in the only One who is faithful, when I thank him for  all he has done despite the way I thought life would be, when I acknowledge the mind-boggling gift of the Holy Spirit, I can do nothing BUT overflow with gratitude.

So for those of you who enter into Thanksgiving with a reality that is far from the picture you had imagined for your life, I offer a prayer for you today. It’s one I cling to as well:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

 

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Heartbreak America

Heartbreak. All over America, people are talking of their heartbreak. On this day after the election of Donald Trump as our next president, many people feel as if some sort of joke has gone terribly wrong. Every other social media post I read, there is disbelief, consternation and despair. Parents talk of their children crying upon waking to the news this morning. And even now, the evening after the election, protestors have taken to the streets.

We judge each other, don’t we? We feel so strongly about this that we have thrown knives, heck… sometimes even flaming swords. We wonder how on earth anyone we call friend could possibly vote one way or the other. It’s all just one big heartbreak. But Friends, the day after an election does not hold a corner on the market of heartbreak. Every day those around us are falling apart, trying to make sense of their lives, wondering what the future holds.

On a global level, bad news hits us every day. Our black neighbors are shot and killed during traffic stops. City policemen are gunned down in retaliation. Young women are raped and left for dead on college campuses. Children are sold by their own parents as sex slaves. Refugee women stand in line for hours to get food for their hungry babies. Humanitarian workers are beheaded while trying to serve those in need.

And in our own homes: Our brother gets colon cancer. Our friend’s teenage son dies in a car accident. An old high school friend loses his job while trying to put two daughters through college. Our sister-in-law enters hospice. Our son is lost in his latest high. Our daughter gets pregnant during her senior year. Our husband admits his affair.

It’s tragic. All of it. The global issues and the local, right-in-our-home issues. If you’ve ever lived through any of the above scenarios you are fully aware that life can be devastatingly heartbreaking. You feel as if the air has been sucked out of your lungs and you don’t know if you’ll ever be able to get out of bed again.

But I promise you, there is hope. How do I know this? Because I have tasted and seen it through this thing called love. One of my favorite lines of all time is from Les Miserables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

And it seems to me, at a time like this, we could all stand to see the face of God. I wonder what would happen if we could turn toward His face rather than toward fear and trepidation of what is to come.

When my dad was about to breathe his last breath, I sang worship songs to him because it was the only way I knew we could truly connect in that moment. I was obviously stuck here on earth while he already had one foot in heaven. So I sang this:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in his wonderful face.

And the things of earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Therein lies my hope now as well. To look full into His face. To allow the messy, ugly places of life to become dim so God’s glory, His beauty can bloom more fully.  It means that the troubles we face now, while very real, do not have to own me, control me or have me living in fear. Instead I need not look far for those who are living with heartbreak so I can offer love and care to them, whether it’s within their angst over this election or any other grievous event. There is where we all win.

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The Light of the Moon

Most of my weekends these days are spent driving to either a soccer venue or a cycling race, and sometimes both. This morning had us in the car by 6 a.m. heading to a cycling race in Ohio. Driving east, the sky began to lighten little by little. As the sky started turning shades of pink and purple, threaded with gold, I looked in my side mirror before switching lanes. There in the reflection of my mirror hung the largest full moon I’ve seen in some time.

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Actually, I had seen it last night. The big white ball suspended in the dark sky, but I was surprised to see it now – behind me – where the sky was trying to hold on to what was left of nighttime.

As I drove in silence while my son and his friends slept, I thought about the juxtaposition of the moon behind me and the sun in front of me. The years have brought darkness. Some of it was a direct result of my actions while other times I was a reluctant participant in the dark schemes beyond my control.

The loss of a friend. The end of my marriage. The death of my father. All of those circumstances hemmed me in with a darkness that, at times, felt unbearable and hopeless. Yet, in God’s grace and goodness, he always, ALWAYS illuminated the way. He didn’t always hang the brightest full moon. Sometimes it was barely a sliver. And some nights, the light was completely eclipsed. But faith and truth taught me to trust that the light, no matter how slight, was still there. Still behind whatever was veiling it at any given time. Furthermore, I learned to trust that the nighttime would not last forever. Dawn would always break with a magnificent feast of color and new hope spread out before me.

When we arrived in Ohio, I had some time between races to hike for an hour or so. This particular race took place in a beautiful state park with plenty of trails that traversed alongside the Little Miami River. With the sun now fully overhead, I started to thank God for the light he brought to me when all else seemed dark in my life. 

Friends, that light is you. You have held me when I felt unlovable. You have cried with me when my world fell apart. You have cooked me dinner. Cleaned my house. You have written me notes. Sent me books. Handed me kleenex. I am forever grateful that God uses relationships…  deep, loving, irreplaceable friendships to bring us into light.

As I walked and prayed, I praised God for being the Light of the World, and asked him…if he so desired… to help me be someone’s light, to use me as someone’s moon, whether crescent or full, so I can help bring truth and healing in an otherwise dark and lonesome sky. 

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He is not here

Part of me thought I would find him here. But he’s just as gone here in Florida as he is back in Indiana. Re-experiencing the loss feels as fresh here as it was two months ago when he took his last breath. I walk into his closet, at the Florida condo, and pick up his shirts, his shoes, his pajamas, his baseball hats. I hear him ask me which one I want to wear, as he knows I will come looking for a cap to hide my frizzy hair from this humidity.  I see him in my memory tossing each one at me… “Cape Cod? Copperleaf? Lexus?” He names them all according to their embroidered logos. I tease him that he shouldn’t throw them at me unless he wants to give me another scar on my lip like the one I have from the book he tossed at me when I was little. I choose Copperleaf as it reminds me of his love of golf – or at least the love of being with his friends, on the course, enjoying the warm Florida sun.

During my first bike ride around Bonita Bay, I let the tears burn my already sun-kissed face as I recall the image of us sitting in the oncologists’ exam room as we learned that the cancer had spread to his lungs and pelvic bones. He turned to my mom and with all the energy he could muster in his worn-out body, he lifted his head and said, “I guess we’re not going to Florida,” and then let his chin fall back to his chest. My heart shattered in that moment. He loved it here. He loved being with my mom and their friends and my family and my brothers and their families. He worked so hard to earn all of this and he shared it with us so unselfishly, so graciously.

He should be here, I thought, as I rode the trails he loved to ride with Lily, their fluffy, white Maltese in his basket. God had different plans, however, and I wonder how long it will be until I can fully accept that he is gone from this earth. Perhaps it’s a hard pill to swallow because he enjoyed this life so much. I could tell he didn’t want to go. Those last days of his life, he fought and fought to stay alive. He called out to God over and over until he finally slipped into a coma. When he finally took his last breath, it was so obvious he was gone. There was absolutely no life in this man who had been so full of it. (I can hear him now: “Yep, I was full of it, alright.”)

Yet he still lives on in the memories of our rich history and in the reminders that call him to mind. Yesterday, I saw him at the table full of men enjoying lunch and laughter at De Romo’s. I see his hands in my own as I hold the book he loaned me last year. I feel him hovering nearby as I sit on the bench at our mutually favorite writing spot, overlooking the Imperial River. I hear him asking us to get in the car so we’ll make it to church on time. I see him sitting on a lounge chair, watching my boys and their cousins throw the football on the beach. I see him lying on his stomach, next to Asher, as he looks under the leaking refrigerator trying to diagnose a problem. I see him lagging behind on his bike as he and the boys ride to The Ship Store, next to Backwater Jack’s, so he can buy them ice cream first thing in the morning – because that’s the type of grandpa he was.

He was a man who lived with passion and poured so much into our lives that it’s no wonder our hearts break a little more at every turn. At church this morning, I tried to imagine how Mary felt when she thought she had lost her Jesus. How upside down her life must have seemed. The shock she no doubt experienced as she stumbled through those first hours and days… until she encountered him again. Hope fulfilled in the living Christ.

I walk with faith, albeit sometimes small, that my dad – who was a believer and follower of Jesus Christ – is more alive than ever, that he will live  in Christ forever. In my sorrow, it is hard to grasp but due to the resurrected King, I believe he is okay, that he’s healthy and strong and filled with a complete joy like never before. Until we meet again, I will continue to recite the Serenity Prayer, and pay particular attention to the second verse which holds out the hope to which I cling… for my dad and for all of us:

God, grant me the serenity to

Accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

taking, as He did, this sinful world

as it is, not as I would have it;

trusting that He will make all things right

if I surrender to His Will;

that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with Him

forever in the next.

Three of my four boys adding flowers to the Cross at church in honor of their grandpa.

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As he lay dying

It’s quiet here in my parent’s house. Too quiet. My dad is lying in his bed, struggling to find a comfortable position for his weak body that now holds tubes to drain his bladder and kidneys. My mom has gone to run errands, and we no longer want to leave him alone, in case he would try to get out of bed unassisted.

So much runs through my mind each day, as I’m sure is always the case when a loved one is close to death. Sometimes the memories flow chronologically. I recall the many times, as a child, I jumped into my dad’s arms when he came home from work. He would pick me up and toss me from side to side, until one day I was simply too big for him to lift. Other times the memories come randomly, like the other night when I was making dinner. As I shredded the beets for a salad, I remember how I only recently found out my dad hates beets.  Then I project ahead and wonder if I will always remember what his voice sounds like. How he smells. His facial expressions. His snoring that could wake up the entire household.

Through this entire journey, however, I feel so blessed.  It makes me wonder why anyone would choose euthanasia and miss out on the powerful, sweet memories we are creating even now. I walked into his room today and asked if he needed anything. “Yes, kiss my hand,” he said, as he raised his left hand toward me. “That’s easy,” I responded, as I held his hand to my lips and then rubbed his frigid fingers.

On Christmas Eve, when he was a bit stronger, I went into their bedroom to tell him we were leaving and that I loved him. “Pray for me,” he said, “I’m scared.” I crawled onto my parent’s bed and held his hand. We cried together and prayed together. I told him how we would be okay and how he would be with Jesus and one day we would join him there. I told him how I often imagined I was lying in the palm of Jesus’ hand when I was scared or sad. He told me that was a lovely imagine. He said I had been a wonderful daughter and I told him he’d been the best father. He told me to be there for my mom, and we talked about our backpacking trip and how special it was. Then he said, “I love you,” over and over, as he stroked the top of my head. I was both his baby and his caretaker.

I understand that it’s hard to see loved ones deteriorate. There was not an ounce of me that wanted to go to the hospital this week for what would obviously be my dad’s final appointment with his oncologist. I wanted to run through those hospital hallways, out the doors, and back to my car instead of facing the doctor as he said there’s nothing else they can do except try to keep him comfortable. 

I understand how hard it is to be present and face reality. Focusing at work is hard. Doing daily chores are hard. Being there for others is hard.

I understand that it may seem easier to skip straight to death and avoid all of this affliction and pain. But why? WHY would anyone give up the opportunity to walk into suffering with someone they love? Why lose the chance to see how God will meet you, provide for you and carry you? 

I’ve had many beautiful moments in my life. Many of those moments have been a result of the love and care and graciousness of my dad. While I wish he didn’t have to suffer, I would not trade a moment of these past few months, and days and soon only moments that I get to witness God’s transformation and change in this man so many have loved. Scripture says it best, in 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

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Open Letter to Divorced Women

An Open Letter to Divorced Women,

I’m hoping you can give me some answers. I have so many questions. Even after nearly 5 years in this fellowship in which I didn’t ask to be a part, I find myself wondering if you struggle with the same questions, wrestle with similar matters of the heart.

Granted, our stories are distinct but we may have a shared experience with one another: your husband cheated, or drank too much, or one day he up and left with no explanation. Maybe he decided he never really loved you, or he liked men more than women; maybe he was more married to his job than he ever was to you. No one but you and your husband, and maybe some trusted friends and therapists, truly know what went on inside the crumbling marriage that wore you down, broke your heart, and shattered your dreams. No one on the outside really understands what it’s really like to step through the wreckage of the tornado that swept through your life, as you tiptoed through the pieces of what was left of it and reconstructed a new you.

After all hell broke loose in my marriage, and I started to emerge from the utter depression and pain, my sister-in-law said with worry in her voice, “It seems like you are reinventing yourself.” Damn right I was. I couldn’t stay the same. The circumstances of my life would not allow for it. Since she’s a therapist, I thought she of all people would understand how a woman enters a metamorphosis when the framework of her life shifts and the faults become visible.

That may have been the first time I felt like my relationships were like the blocks in a game of Jenga. When a key piece is removed, the entire structure starts to sway and eventually crashes all around. So I ask, were any of you fortunate enough to stay in relationship with your in-laws? Or maybe “fortunate” is something you feel now that you don’t have to deal with them. For me… I still feel the pain when my ex-husband and children go to his family get-togethers. I ache when I see photos of the nieces and nephews who no longer know me because they were so little when we divorced. I cry when something reminds me of the inside jokes I shared with my sisters-in-law, because now it feels as if it were from another time, another dimension – so out of grasp.

I also wonder if you ache every time your ex-husband has a new girlfriend. Or maybe you cringe every time he mentions his new wife. It’s silly, really. I have been dating a wonderful man for three years. Yet, every time my ex-husband breaks up with one of his girlfriends, there’s a part of me that wonders if he is going to come back for me. He doesn’t usually leave me wondering long as he has another girlfriend pretty quickly, which of course jolts me back to reality.

My boyfriend once said the only person he worries losing me to is my ex-husband. As hard as it was, and as much as I didn’t want to hurt my boyfriend, I wanted to be completely honest with him. I told him he had every right to be worried because there have been times that it’s crossed my mind. Times when I wonder what it would be like to reconcile and have all of us living under one roof again.

My friends are quick to remind me what it was like. How depressed and oppressed I was. They remind me of the details of my marriage when it was at its worst, the details I often gloss over because the memories are too painful. But I took my marriage vows seriously, and while I was not perfect, I never wished for the divorce. I wanted to stay married to the man I said “I do” to when I was 24. I wanted to stay married to the man with whom I had four children. I wanted to repair the damage that was done, to start fresh and live a long, happy life together despite the bumps and bruises. Do you ever wish for a reunion, even if it is rooted in magical thinking rather than the truth of what really happened?

When I go there in my mind, it is quickly followed by the gut-wrenching thought that I would have to give up my boyfriend, whom I love deeply. I have no doubt God brought him in to my life for a reason, and to think of giving up that relationship makes me want to vomit. It wouldn’t make sense to go back to something so unhealthy when I now live within a healthy, loving relationship. It’s not easy, this relationship with my boyfriend. We are very different, and both stubborn, but we fight for each other. We fight to understand one another, to work through miscommunication and treat each other with respect and honor. So how do you reconcile all of these conflicting thoughts and feelings? Tell me, my divorced friends. I’d like to hear your stories.

There’s one last thing I want to ask, although it’s more of a series of questions. Do you ever feel like people view you as someone with a huge fault? Someone who wasn’t lovable enough or who was too much of a bitch to stay married even when you know you don’t have a bitchy bone in your body? (Not that I don’t… because I do… have bitchy bones, I mean… but never enough to cause a divorce.) Do you feel like you wear the Scarlet A or that people think you carry some sort of disease that may be contagious? Do you feel lonely when you go to dinner parties with couples? Or maybe you don’t even get asked to dinner parties any longer. What do you do with that, dear friends? Most of the time I don’t concern myself with what others think of me when it comes to my marital status. Other times, my self-esteem is rocked. I’ll admit, it helps having a long-term boyfriend, but there are often times I feel shame when I utter the words, “ex-husband” or “divorced.” I suppose it’s part of the imperfect world we live in. But I’d sure like to know how you handle these feelings and insecurities.

My friend Jenni and I have had many conversations as it pertains to the life of the divorced woman and I know we are not alone. I’m thankful for her kindred spirit and journey. I pray that if you’ve gone through a divorce, you’ll read this knowing that yes, it hurts like hell to feel rejected, but you are worthy! You are loved! God has you! He hears you when you exclaim the words: “I can’t believe this is my life.” Jenni and I still say these words from time to time.

So know that I wrestle with you, Friend. Five years later, I hurt. But I also feel joy. Gratitude helps. I give thanks that my boys are happy and healthy, that I have a great job and a beautiful home. I have a family and a boyfriend who love me and a God I trust despite the times I called out to him to bring my husband back to me.

I encourage you to call out to God, even if it’s ugly and seems irreverent. It’s not. He knows your thoughts already. Also, I encourage you to let the tears come. I am often surprised by my tears which is what motivated me to write this. I was folding clothes watching Parenthood and Sarah hugs Seth as he’s exiting their lives once again. Suddenly tears filled my eyes as I was transported to the last time I hugged my ex-husband on the porch as he was moving out. I could have wiped them away and shunned the pain that accompanied them, but I let them come because I know they serve a healing purpose in my life, as they will in yours.

And by all means, I encourage you to ask questions so we can relate to one another. We may never find the answers. I’ve accepted that I may never know the full answer to my divorce. Nonetheless, I’ll keep asking because as Poet Rainer Maria Rilke said:  “Be patient with all that’s unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms or like books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers which cannot be given to you for you would not be able to live them.  And the point is to live everything.   Live the question now and perhaps then, gradually, without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into the answer.”

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A Tale of Two Blondes

Halfway through my son’s soccer game, sweet little Ashley climbed up the bleachers and asked if she could sit by me. We talked about the game, cheered for our team and then I asked her what she was going to do the rest of the day.

“Well, I have five dollars I have to spend.”

“Oh?” I asked, “What do you have to spend it on?”

She thought about it a minute and then said, “Probably a Barbie.”

I told her how I had loved Barbies as a little girl and how I had the Barbie convertible and the townhouse. And how Ken and Barbie liked to swim and go on vacation. I left out the part about them making out in the back of the camper. Ashley was quick to lose interest in my nostalgia.

“Do you play soccer?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Weeeeellll, I would, but I really like to dance and I was supposed to dance this year but then we missed a day to turn in my paper and we were going to turn in money but my mom said I couldn’t because she would have lost money so I don’t dance this year which is really too bad because I’ve been dancing a long time… ever since I was five.”

She’s six now.

By the end of the game, I had worked up an appetite. After all, it’s exhausting to sit on the bleachers and watch your son slide across a rain-soaked field, land on his head and get his neck stepped on, all while trying to keep up with a six-year-old’s stories.

I said goodbye to Ashley after returning her to her parents, made sure my son was okay before delivering him to his father’s car and drove to a nearby fast food restaurant. A bleach-blonde girl greeted me enthusiastically by name. It took me a while to register that it was Beth, as I was in a neighboring city. She seemed genuinely happy to see me and we chatted a bit as I ordered my food.

I met Beth when she was a shy, nervous 8th grader. Over the next few years, most of my memories involve her in some sort of trouble – at school, at home, with the law. Most of her photos on social media sites are highly seductive selfies or close-ups of weed.

Beth seemed to me the antithesis of Ashley, who comes from a home with two parents who love and nurture her. Who keep her safe and secure. To talk to Ashley in her young innocence is a delight.

Beth on the other hand, had a rough upbringing. Mom is missing from her life for whatever reason. Dad is in jail. Unlike Ashley’s bright hope and energy, there is a darkness that seems to surround Beth. And the truth is, it is hard for me to love people like Beth. Really love them. I mean, I can love them in my do-good, ethereal, Christian mind. I am friendly and kind; but deep in my heart there is judgment and disapproval.

As I wrestled with this unattractive character flaw, I kept asking myself why I had a distaste for kids like Beth, when in general I am a loving, accepting human being. It took me a few days of soul searching when it finally dawned on me: Looking at the hardened teenager that is Beth against the backdrop of the sweet face of Ashley stirred my personal caldron of confusing childhood memories.

Like Ashley, I had two parents who loved me and provided all the creature comforts I could ask for and more. Like Beth, there was family turmoil which caused me to latch on to anything that provided emotional comfort. As I consider Beth, I am confronted with the reality that in my formative years, I stood on a precipice of self-destruction. When I play the highlight reel of my life, those are not the clips I wish to review.

Yet they exist right alongside the clips of the happy, little girl playing Barbies in the basement. Fortunately, I’ve been to therapy and read self-help books by the dozens. I have joined in Bible studies and prayer groups and have done some honest, hard work toward being healthy.

But the psyche is a fragile place and although I now have categories in which to file the ups and downs of life, certain triggers can push me into a place where my character flaws rise to the surface. My trigger that day was seeing the dichotomy of these two girls, one drawing me into my own childhood innocence, while the other reminded me of some of my ugliest memories.

What I learned that day, and the days to follow, is that we are a conglomeration of stories. Mine was found in both Ashley and Beth. I was quick to embrace Ashley’s and quicker to reject Beth’s. But God wrestled with me until I could embrace both of them, until I fell into grace and peace and thanksgiving –  to a God who loves me enough to reveal my flaws and my gifts. To a God who assures me time and again that in each story there is redemption.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Cancer and Other Thoughts

My dad has cancer. Again. He had it once before. A different kind, about 20 some years ago. Back then it was prostate cancer and once he had that little trouble-maker removed, followed by some radiation, he was back to his active, energetic self.

The cancer he has now is called small cell carcinoma of the bladder. It’s extremely rare. And aggressive.

Let me interrupt myself here and go on record that for me reading the internet is never a good idea when it comes to health issues. Maybe you’ve had better luck finding encouraging reports or connecting with a medical miracle. But when I research reports on cancer or any health related topic, I either get caught up in an abysmal medical journal abstract (thanks to my 20 years of marriage to a doctor) or I see a list of symptoms I have had which lead me to diagnose myself with some deadly disease. I know I’m not alone. My friend Theresa is the same way. She starts breathing funny and thinks she has caught emphysema, even though last time I checked you can’t catch emphysema.

Of course there are people on web forums who share their victories over cancer and other horrible sicknesses and I do take comfort in reading those posts – when I find them. Thankfully, internet aside, my dad’s doctors have been fairly positive regarding his situation, considering only 1 to 9 people out of 1 million get this cancer (I read that in a medical journal, online). Because of the aggressive nature, however, they wanted him to start chemo right away.

So last week, that’s what he did. He sat for the better part of three days with two cancer fighting drugs dripping into his arm. They swam their way through his veins and went to work on their lifesaving, cancer cell-obliterating mission. My mom told my brothers and I that he was doing excellent and we saw it for ourselves when they arrived at the lake house on Saturday morning where we were all spending the first weekend of the season together. Although he dozed off in a chair now and then, my dad worked in the yard and joined us for appetizers and conversation on the dock. Indeed he was doing great.

Until he wasn’t.  Shortly after lunch on Sunday, he asked my mom for his anti-nausea pills and headed to bed. When he woke up he was disoriented and too weak to walk without assistance. We watched over him and took turns helping him to the bathroom and back to bed. Over the course of the next two days, he battled chills, a severe headache and vomiting. Although he could answer questions accurately, it took him a while to muster the energy to speak.

I felt unsettled, like life was out of balance. My dad, the leader of our family, is sick. Very sick. And I’m not sure what to think, or how to feel. For a few moments, I considered chugging a beer or downing some whiskey straight from the bottle. But alcohol and I are not friends any more. We had, shall we say… a falling out several years ago.

Thankfully I walked outside instead, spotted the red kayak and without telling anyone, embarked on some time alone on the water. If I want a good workout, I paddle left from our house. This takes me by the houses of neighbors and strangers, where I refuse to stop or slow down for fear of looking weak or out of shape.

I didn’t care about impressing anyone today so I turned right and paddled along the rocky shore which lines the grassy dam. There are no houses. No one to impress. I paddled and I floated. I prayed and I cried. When I got angry I paddled until my shoulders ached (because I’m getting old, and I read somewhere on the internet that women in their 40s often experience bursitis in their hips and shoulders). When the anger subsided, I stopped paddling, looked across the lake, and drank in the beauty of the feathery clouds and the various shades of green on the trees growing on the southern Indiana hills.

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Lake reflections

Just as I was getting ready to turn around and head back to the lake house, a telephone pole caught my attention. Yes, a telephone pole. From my angle, the wires and the electrical box created an illusion of a crumpled little man. (I promise I did not chug the beer or down the whiskey.) The way the light and shadows mingled, there appeared a Christ-like figure on the cross-like pole. A telephone pole crucifix in the middle of a cornfield just over the grassy dam right in my line of vision. And in my very humble, hardly qualifying prayers, I thanked God for the reminder. The reminder that he knew suffering. He knew because he had once watched his Son gasp for air and grasp for comfort.

And there in a red kayak on a sunny afternoon on Grandview Lake, I knew God was giving me what I needed. Not an alcoholic beverage to guzzle, but a glimpse of hope. The moment didn’t last long. There was no waxing poetic prayers or singing psalms of thanksgiving; it was just a moment. Nothing more. Nothing less. That was it. Suffering and comfort. From a God who knows both and uses telephone poles as reminders that He’s in it all. Hand in hand today and tomorrow and the day after that.

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