Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Tête-à-tête About The "D" Word

Here's a part of divorce I didn't really think about when I started this chapter in life: how willing people are to share their opinion of my decisions. I mean, I guess, yes, I knew people would have opinions, and I even realized I might lose a few "friends" in the process, but I didn't anticipate the  subtle shaming that would come with my decisions.

Let me back up a bit.

When the decision was made to part ways, I sought a full-time job. I am so very fortunate and forever grateful that I had a career in higher education to fall back on. I was able to obtain a job in the Denver area that I enjoy, supports me adequately, offers me great benefits, and surrounds me with smart and fun coworkers.

Fortunately, because I had dabbled in the writing world prior to moving, I knew a number of wonderfully talented writing folks in the Denver area. Phew! Connections! I "just happened" to guest write, every couple months, on the blog of one of these fun writers and had even profiled his book on my blog, without ever having met him. When I moved here, he offered his friendship and support as I made the transition, and like a good love story, the friendship slowly and patiently blossomed.

A year and a half later, he's now the carrots to my peas and we share living quarters. Sigh. I'm content-- for the first time in a long, long time, my heart is a peace. I laugh easily. I no longer feel alone or lonely. I like my career. I get to teach. I can make ends meet and even save a little. I like where I live. I'm making friends. I've even renewed and found peace with my faith and found a wonderful place to worship and connect. And I get to live with someone who I adore! I love a happy ending.

Then it happens. Like nails on a chalkboard, someone offers their well-meaning ideas about my life. I've honed my responses in hopes of cutting short the conversation I can predict will ensue:

...No, I'm not married, and for now that's not the direction we want to go. 
...No, he's not particularly into church but we have more open conversations about our beliefs than I've ever had, and he supports me fully.
...No, I didn't "date around" and try men on like shoes. 
...Yes, we've had to work hard at aspects of our relationship, unlearning habits, and I'm so very thankful he's the kind of man who will do that and still love me. 
...No, I don't think God has abandoned me. 

I even had one "friend" from Facebook (you know how those friendships go-- so many are not really friends but acquaintances of the past) send me a private message wanting to know why my ex and I broke up-- no thoughts of our well-being or inquiries about how we're doing-- just the dirt. Yuk. Needless to say, I cleaned out my friends' list shortly after that.

Worst-- and saddest--of all comments was from someone I formerly knew who told my daughter she thought "I just needed to come home, where I belong".  While I find the other comments tedious and a product of personal perspective, and perhaps even well-meaning, this one made me angry. Her father and I never put the kids in the middle; why would someone else do that?

It's easy to say, "Don't worry about what they're only accountable to's your life...they won't have to answer for your decisions." I get all that. My cerebral processor understands.

But the heart struggles. I think what people may not understand--and certainly I didn't know pre-divorce-- is how little protective skin is left on the heart after a divorce. The healing takes a long time. These perhaps well-intended, but shaming remarks are already questions haunting me and ones I've wrestled with in my heart, and with God. So they are like well-aimed arrows that zing to the core of my own self-doubt.

I really don't want this to turn into a defensive rant, and I realize it's bordering on that. What I really wanted was to let anyone who may have gone through a divorce, be contemplating a divorce, or in the midst of the muck of one, know what I wish I had known: people might turn on you and use the very handle you are clinging to as a wordy weapon to try to convict you. It will happen. So many times it comes from a place of their own hurt or background-- maybe they are a child of divorce or in a painful relationship. I think sometimes it comes from a rigid place of legalism disguised as religion, or from their own convictions (they have a right to those, even if we don't agree!).

I'm not sure I have a lot of answers, and certainly thinking I can prevent those kinds of insensitive backlashes is foolish. But here is my list of...

Top Ten Post-Divorce Lessons  
  1. Make healthy connections and new friends who aren't so curious about your past or determined to straighten out your future. 
  2. Cling to the friends who love you, no matter your decisions.
  3. Nurture your interests and hobbies to remind yourself of your uniqueness and gifts. 
  4. Be open to hearing the wisdom of others, even if it stings a bit; we all need to grow and learn. 
  5. But keep taking the steps that are right for you
  6. Trust the process. It is a process--sometimes harsh--but the personal growth and self-discovery are invaluable.
  7. Let it grow compassion and insight in you--you just may be the healing balm another heart desperately needs.
  8. Try to avoid resentment and anger. 
  9. And remember, you're not alone. 
  10. Most importantly: Cling to what you believe and talk privately to the One who feeds your soul and heart; let that Source guide you.

In the meantime, if you need a virtual hug or listening ear, send me an email. I'll read without judgment. I promise. I'll even celebrate with you as you travel a road to healing and wholeness.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Feeling Blue

Can we talk colors? Four, to be exact.

I teach a course at a community college designed to introduce students to the wide world of college. The content includes college success skills and a bit of career counseling, among other topics. One of the assessments we use to help students learn more about their personalities and how it may relate to potential careers is the True Colors Test. Now for you personality assessment junkies (and who isn't?), this instrument uses the principles of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which is based on the theories of Karl Jung's personality types. I won't bore you with it all, but essentially Karl Jung believed that there were "temperaments" or types of personalities. Isabel Myers and Katherine Briggs (a mother and daughter team during the 50's-- not really the most supportive decade for women so let's give them a rousing round of kudos) developed an instrument that refined the theory into 16 types of personalities. The True Colors Test is an offshoot of this that simplifies the "types" by eliminating a few categories (introvert/extrovert). Still with me? It doesn't really matter. Keep reading.

As part of my training to teach this section of the course, I had to participate in a True Colors workshop. Sign me up. I totally geek out on this kind of stuff. I was really hoping to learn something about myself I didn't know. Alas, at 52, it seems there isn't much about myself I don't know. My results were predictable.

You can take the test here-- it's the same version I took. It will explain the results which boil down to four colors:

Okay, now to get to the point of this post. I want to be an orange. Oranges are Tiggers! They are fun, fun, fun. They are spontaneous and bold. They are active and optimistic. Oranges are the life of the party. They "bring excitement to society"! I want to be this person!

I am not.

I'm a blue. I knew it when I was taking the darn assessment. I was going to be the nurturer. I would need harmony. I would be a heart-follower. I would be forever in search of myself. Sigh. Not that there's anything wrong with this. I mean, yes, we blues are likable; we're peace-makers; yeah, yeah, yeah. All warm and fuzzy-like.  I want to be dashing and exciting.

But I suppose there's some good that comes out of this. I'm adaptable. This has come in handy over the last couple of years. I need opportunities to be creative and seek that out (however, I'm not bold or orange enough to let my creative light shine too much).

Oh, but good heavens, the drawback is I'm forever introspective and in search of myself.  I can get lost in the dusty caverns of my mind, which is sometimes not the best place to hang out. Trust me. To make matters worse, my second highest color is gold. We are the conventional backbone of society and adhere to structure and schedules well. We are values and order. Seriously? This is the opposite of exciting and spontaneous. I feel boring. And safe. I am forever the people-pleaser and rule-follower. Just... SIGH.

But here's the good news. Taking this little inventory and knowing thyself isn't a life sentence. We can learn to let our lessor colors shine a bit. So I'm going to work on actively putting a little spit n' polish on my orange. I'll never be a complete convert; I doubt I'll ever "thrive on crisis". But I am going to actively be more aware of being in the moment, being a little less concerned and uptight about what others think. The Squeeze is a great partner in this effort. Although I don't think he's an orange either, he does bring me a great deal of fun and gently encourages me (sometimes not so gently) to not be so worried about convention or what others think. He takes chances and lets his creative light shine. Yes, this is living!

I know I can never shake who I am, nor do I want to. Shakespeare had a good point: to thine own self be true. And let's be honest, I don't really have a choice because to quote another famous character: I yam what I yam. And that's OK.

But let this serve as a warning, dear blog readers: I might let a little bit of audacious and stunning orange show up from time to time.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Starting Over

I think I must be crazy. What was I thinking to leave a perfectly stable life with a nice house and nice life? At fifty, no less! I guess I wanted more. Nice isn't bad; it just doesn't feel vital. You don't hear passion or living fully or thriving in "nice". You hear good enough, mediocre, surviving.

I don't think I would have had the courage to move out and on if it hadn't been for a couple of hard years wearing down my resistance and fight. To recap the two years I now refer to as My Life As A Country Song-- and to catch you up-- my son had cancer, my "baby" graduated from high school, I was lonely, the dog died, and my body betrayed me with a potentially life-threatening, big-assed words disease. Let the music twang.  I was done.

I won't go tabloid on you about why I left: I refuse to be one of those those people who publicly bashes their ex. (A side tangent: how can people do that in social media? Publicly? With potential friends, family, and kids reading their words? Have we lost a sense of decency? Kindness? Privacy? Tangent end.) The fight to hang on and save a marriage was gone from me. Sometimes your heart just has to wave the white flag and realize the other side walked away from the battle long ago. It's over. Make your choices.

So I did.

That was two years ago, and that's where this blog picks up.  I sometimes feel very alone in this new life, my path obscured by a dense fog of unknowing, stumbling, wondering what the heck I'm doing-- faking it as I go along. But I can't be the only one determined to find joy, and redefine the person I really envision myself to be. There must be others out there like me, who want to be able to laugh, ponder, and see the humor and be okay with the fright in moving forward with absolutely no recognizable map. I can't be alone in my crazy...can I?

So that's how I move forward with this blog. A conversation of like-minds. So let's talk. Let's dance. And let's be a little less alone.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

That's Amore!
Ahhhh love. Doesn’t Valentine’s Day and the approach of spring, just make you want to burst with clichés and sappy songs about love? Not so much?

I can relate. I’ve certainly had my recent confrontation with the utter failure of love. But, as the saying goes, “hope springs eternal”, and just when I think this is a concept better left to that which I share with my kids and furry animals, little wafts of sweet affection are gifted to me and I start to believe again.

Almost everyone has an opinion or thought about love in all its splendor and glory--especially those in the limelight. What is it about being a celebrity that turns a person into an instant philosopher, as if their entire life-experience is an E. F. Hutton moment? I don’t know honestly, but alas, in the spirit of the holiday, here are a few quotes from famous folks about the subject of passion. See if you can guess the authors (I’ll reveal the answers at the end of the post):

1. “You know when you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

2. “True love cannot be found where it does not truly exist; nor can it be hidden where it does.”

3. “Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that’s a real treat.”

4. “Only time can heal your broken heart, just as only time can heal his broken arms and legs.”

5. “If dreams give you power, then I’m strong enough to walk through my heart till you love me.”

6. “Girls bored me, they still do. I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I’ve ever known."

7. “Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.”

a. Katherine Hepburn     b. David Schwimmer     c. Dr. Seuss     d. Walt Disney
e. Reba McEntire           f. Joanne Woodward      g. Miss Piggy

There are as many thoughts and feelings on love is there are people willing to talk about the state of the heart. Love between family, love-gone-wrong, twisted love, supernatural love, divine love—you name it—love has been the subject, in one form or another, of history, books, movies, songs, poetry, art, religion, and even crime. It’s as basic to our human needs as food and water. No wonder we give it so much thought.

When it’s good, it’s oh so good. But when it’s gone-wrong or just gone, it can rip a cavern-sized hole in our hearts that hurts worse than almost any physical pain. I certainly don’t have any answers or profundity about love; I’m the least likely to give advice. But I do have the hope and belief that love—from friends, God, family, and yes, maybe even that sticky-sweet romantic kind, will prevail in my life.

So consider this bit of sentimental contemplation my Valentine's Day card to you. Wherever you’re at in the process of defining, finding, or healing from love, may the warmth of friends, the affection of family, the gentleness of the divine, and maybe even the allure of romance be yours this holiday.

OK the answers:

1. Dr. Suess (And it didn't even rhyme!)
2. David Schwimmer (Huh? He shouldn't give up his day job to be a philosopher.)
3. Joanne Woodward (I have to second this quote-- love a man who can make me laugh.)
4. Miss Piggy (HIYAHHH!)
5. Reba McEntire (Didn't this just sound like a twangin' country song?)
6. Walt Disney (A give-away, but truly, the man needed to get out more.)
7. Katharine Hepburn (Never one to do or say what was expected.)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Negative Thinking Snuggies

Give me a show of hands: How many of you, every new year or perhaps every Monday, vow to start a healthier eating or working out regiment? (Ooo me, me!) I'll be honest, I know the choices I need to be making to be healthy, fit, and feel better in those damn skinny jeans I bought a couple weeks ago in an impulse indulgence of my midlife crisis (but let's not get into that). Ahem. Anyway, it’s easier to resort to foods I find comforting—basically anything carb or sugar based-- than try to change my habits. Comfort foods are like a drug on my brain, wrapping my psyche in a cozy endorphin Snuggie.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the solace we find in our habits.  As Edgar Rice Burroughs said, “We are, all of us, creatures of habit, and when the seeming necessity for schooling ourselves in new ways ceases to exist, we fall naturally and easily into the manner and customs which long usage has implanted ineradicably within us.” That’s a lot of fancy wordsmithin’ for saying it’s easier to nestle into our comfort zone, even if that’s not the healthiest or happiest option.

But more insidious than the in-your-face behavioral habits we cling to, are the more subtle attitudes and emotions that almost become a part of our personality. Negative Eeyore habits remind me of a pair of sweats I own: the elastic is so worn out they slip off me; they have a hole melted into them where I stood too close to the wood burner stove one time, and they have zippers around the ankles (I know; dated fashion statement right there) that scratch my legs. But they're so comforting to slip on, I'm loathe to part with them.

In my previous post, I coughed up the explanation of why I’ve been MIA for the last six months. It’s been two years of one angst-filled drama and hurdle after another. What I didn’t realize was that after a while, anticipating crisis, waking up and lacing up my emotional army boots to trudge through another day, became a habit of thought—an expectation of life. Weird how something so negative could be a place I go to so easily, and worse, maybe even find a bit of comfort in! How is it we find comfort in being miserable?

Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology offers this evolution explanation of negative thinking, "Fear is a signal that danger is lurking, sadness is a signal that loss is impending, and anger signals someone trespassing against us. In evolution, danger, loss and trespass are all threats to survival itself." (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment)  This makes sense to me.  I faced a lot of threat to my survival-- my kid's life, my life, and my lifestyle-- in the last two years. I was, in a sense, living the results of fear. He continues to say, “All of this culminates in a quick and decisive action: fight, flight, or conserve.” That was me. Life got tough; I put on my boxing gloves. Waking up and girding myself for whatever the day dished out became my modus operandi. 

The other morning, I woke up and stretched out in bed. My mind, still fuzzy and soft from sleep, wandered. Out of habit, I scanned the landscape of my day and circumstances, preparing myself for the 24-hour battle before me. Then it occurred to me: I don’t have a battle today. I feel good. My health is great. I have a good job that is providing for me. I am making friends. I like where I live. I like my cozy little apartment. I have solid relationships in my life. My kids are happy and healthy. Maybe I should worry about… I did a quick survey of what I might have to worry about for the day or week, reflexively reaching for my boxing gloves, trying to find the emotional foothold that had become so familiar to me. But, as I lay there in the morning quiet, there just wasn’t one. Wow. I was…gasp… content! So I started worrying about how fleeting and false contentment can be. Ahhh, there was that gnawing feeling I've come to know so well and cradle close to me over the last several years.

Oh brother!

When did this cloak of negative thinking become such a friend? I didn’t realize, until that morning, how familiar the feeling of angst had become. But then a great thing happened. As I tried to find a reason to be stressed or launch into my usual problem-solving mode, I got on my own nerves. Enough! Quietly, before getting out of bed, I acknowledged the good place I am in in life with a prayer of gratitude. I may not be able to claim this tomorrow or next week but for today, it was good.

As Seligman says, “…feeling positive emotion is important, not just because it is pleasant in its own right, but because it causes much better commerce with the world. Developing more positive emotion in our lives will build friendship, love, better physical health, and greater achievement.”

Life can hand out legitimate difficulties-- grief, sadness, hardship, sickness. But it's important to take a step back and make sure a negative attitude isn't just a habit of thought. Clinging to a defeatist gloom n' doom outlook can be a way of insulating against life. After all, something bad can't catch us off guard if we're expecting it, right? On the other hand, living like the sky is falling sure can rob us of a lot of joy and of a happier, healthier relationship with life and people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In A Life To Come

Here it is May. The hummingbirds have returned to the mountains of Colorado, my tulips came up, and the aspen trees are getting buds. Ah, spring.

Well, at 8000 feet, the season is a bit misleading, if not completely MIA. The hummingbird feeders are frozen solid in the morning, and there’s still potential to use our sleds. But nonetheless, as Alexander Pope sagely said, “hope springs eternal”. Summer will arrive. Soon I’ll dust off my bike and kayak. It all happens, completely non-contingent upon my will or desire.

This May is riddled with all kinds of changes for me that make the presence of icicles almost a non-concern. My daughter—my baby—graduates from high school this coming weekend. When and how in the world did this happen? I still picture her toddling around, trying to wear her Mr. Potato Head glasses.

Last night, her father and I went to her final choir concert. Singing is her passion, and choir has been her joy for four years. It was a bitter-sweet event. As is the tradition in our small high school, seniors can elect to perform a solo. For several weeks now, we’ve listened to her practice a song and play her guitar in preparation for her performance. She sang beautifully last night, without a hitch, and to the hoots and hollers of her classmates. In August, she’ll leave for college. In Indiana. Why so far away?

Not only is my baby bird flying away soon, but my son—the one who has been living at home for the last year during his cancer treatments—has received the green light to get on with his life too. At 23, he is more than ready for his independence. With the effects of chemo fading into a not-so-pleasant but distant memory, he’s looking forward, too. He recently asked his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes!) and they’re making plans to move to Florida where he’ll start grad school. And this all happens in two, short weeks—just another change to chalk up to May. 

He’s even going to take his gargantuan puppy with him. At a very hairy and shedding 80 pounds (the puppy, not my son), this may be the one change I’m not dreading. But the house will be very quiet soon, and the rooms very empty.

No matter how I drag my feet, life goes on. Seasons change. The landscape morphs. Trees will be in full leaf soon. The earth keeps rotating. I will turn 50 and enter the fall season of my life, just about the same time the aspen trees light up the mountains in a golden blaze.

Change is inevitable.

Besides sometimes jarring our status quo, here’s what else I’m learning about change: It may not always be easy or desired, but it happens despite our dragging feet. And it’s good. So even though I’ll be saying goodbye to an awful lot—my kids and my forties—I can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon for a new season in life.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Monday, May 5, 2014

And We Connect

Lately I’ve been in a funk with my writing. It can feel like such a lonely business sometimes. You send things out; sometimes you hear back with a rejection, most times you hear nothing, and only rarely do you get the coveted acceptance. Even writing a blog post feels like an echo at times.

Most of the time, I don’t think or worry about it. I just write because I have something to say or a topic interests me-- and I happen to find it fun to manipulate words. But the other day, I received an email response to a post I wrote here about a woman who was born in 1774. The post was about Jane Lea Nixon, who had the unique distinction of being the first white woman born in the Chartiers Valley in Pittsburgh. If you read the post, you’ll note that very little is known about this woman outside her claim to being born white and a female at this point in history (and you might find a picture of an apparition I captured on film, but I make no official claim of this...)

Old St. Luke's-- the church associated with
Jane Lean Nixon.
A gentleman I’ve never met wrote to thank me for this short piece about this relatively unknown woman. She, along with the very old stone church she is associated with, captured my imagination, but for this man, there is a deeper significance. He is a direct descendant of Jane Lea Nixon. Her story was part of his childhood folklore as family members passed on her legend and significance to his family. He told me he can trace the story back to his great, great grandmother, but then there is a gap between her and Miss Jane Lea.

He even went on to mention a minister in an Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh we both know. He now resides in Arizona, and I in Colorado, but online, through a blog post and a church in Pennsylvania, our lives intersected. I was so touched that he contacted me and that something I wrote had special meaning for him.

My friends Jess and Sally write a blog (check it out here) about their travels around the world. Sometimes they share spectacular photos from the top of mountain peaks or from deep forests or sometimes the sweet faces of people around the world. Other times they share haunting stories of poverty, oppression, and abuse. Each installment of their blog invites me to share in the journey, not only visually and cerebrally, but more importantly, in my heart. From across the world, they reach out and share their story so that I can be a part of it. And we connect. Isn't that amazing?

Sorry Sally and Jess-- yes, I shamelessly lifted
this cute picture from your blog. 
Other blog friends share their writing, photos, spiritual journeys, and humor with readers.  The internet really is like a web--a very apt description--connecting us. 

Then I remember why I write. Truly, it’s not as isolated an activity as I'm sometimes tempted to feel like it is. And for this reminder—for the comments I receive here, for the emails I get, for the intersection of lives—I am incredibly grateful. Thanks for being a part of that connection.