Can The Year Of Divorce Be The Best Yet?

My six-word-story. What's yours? 

In my 38th year of life I've looked anxiety and sadness straight in the face and said "no more".  I took bold steps to break strongholds of fear to change course, I stopped the derailing of my purpose in life. In my 38th year I discovered parts of myself that were u.g.l.y. Like, corners of the haunted house basement sort of ugly. They were dark moldy areas of hurt, anger, and unforgiveness where fear, confusion, resentment and indignation resided. In the past I would have scurried back up to the light and not gone back to the basement for a few months until I was forced to by a life circumstance. This year I didn’t run. I stayed. I carefully poked around, scared of what I might find that I couldn’t see with the naked eye (there was plenty). And like in an episode of Hoarders; Life Crisis Edition, I took action. I grabbed my cleaning supplies; blanketing my heart in the word of Truth every morning and I listened deeply to the wisdom of those who have done the same labor-intensive cleaning. I embraced more deeply the hugs from friends, the laughter with Otto, the sweet moments with Ezra, and quietly baking beside of Canaan. There were the words of a powerful song, a chapter in a book or an Instagram meme messaged to be by a bestie… and I used all of those tools to start scrubbing away and disinfecting years of grime and infestation that I didn’t realize had been eroding my foundation.

Two weeks ago I went in for major surgery. One of those life things that pretty much forces you to sit on the couch for days and days....and days....and days on end. Passing the hours brought with it few options: reruns of the Kardashian life, knitting (I've lost any skill I had in that hobby long ago), staring at my popcorn ceiling that needed a fresh paint job a decade ago, orrrr.....embrace this time as a gift. A gift to process and heal. My heart. Not the stitches. 

So, I dove in. Truthfully, I felt super bad for myself. Like whopping huge pity party at moments. Here I am, 38 years old - fresh out of a 4 hour surgery (complete with a catheter bag), sitting in a house that has kids running through it a little less than before thanks to an out-of-body-experience called divorce. Damnnnnn.....38, you could have been kinder.  

But wait.

38 isn't over, pretty girl! In fact, 38 really just started revving up. Choice #1: Chalk 38 up to a year for the record books to not be repeated. Or. Choice #2: Make the rest of it completely unforgettable in the most purposeful and passionate ways possible. 

So I opened a Word Doc and got to work. I titled my exercise:
"What Do I Want the Story of My 38th Year To Be? Because gosh-darn-it, I wasn't going to let the story that was currently being written become the book of this year. I only have like 60 more...every single one counts, right?! Yes! 

Below is what I wrote. And below that you'll find a printable sheet because you're going to do the same exercise and declare some things about your year that you won't (I won't let you!) put off till the next. Boldly and proudly declare your dreams but don't stop there! Take ballsy action steps to make them reality. And if you find you're stuck because of grief, exhaustion, fear....email me. Lets chat it out -- I've right there in the thick of it with you <3

Ready. 
Set. 
Go. 

In my 38th year I will find a new song to sing. New words to say that tell the story of my life. Yes, pain has been a part of that song but it won’t be the chorus that I sing. My journey has lyrics that should be sung at the top of my lungs and given the most powerful chorus that should be repeated over and over again like a bad 80’s song.

In my 38th year I will create more with my hands. I will paint. Knead. Needlework. Shape clay. Write letters. I will become an artist once again.

In my 38th year I will form community in a deeper and richer level than ever before. I will reignite the spirit of hospitality that went dormant in the cold season of separation and divorce. I will love my friends more deeply and completely and I will draw new friends to my dinner table to know their stories and share belly laughs and sentimental tears.

In my 38th year I will learn to forgive. Not a forgiveness that lasts for a while and then fades when wrong is done once again – but a longsuffering forgiveness that lets my heart run free through fields and pick flowers of grace and mercy to give in a beautiful bouquet to those I thought I would always fear and cower from.

In my 38th year I will go for some really big things. Dreams that sat idle because the stress of life blocked my energy to pursue intensely will sit idle no more.

In my 38th year I will learn from my failures and strengthen the attributes and qualities that will allow me to become a partner worthy of the most amazing future marriage relationship I will one day have.

In my 38th year I will quit trying to handle every emotional barrier on my own. I will stop running into the same brick wall and will instead ask for help to navigate around (or break through) them.

In my 38th year I will pursue more eagerly than ever before my relationship with my Creator and slow down enough to feel His delight over me.

In my 38th year I will complain less. Compliment strangers more. Dance often. Eat without guilt. Smile more. Cry less (unless it’s a happy cry). Cuddle my kids more closely. Hug them more deeply. Wear heels more than I wear flats. And find a shade of lipstick that I love.

And in my 38th year I will set some pretty radical goals for year 39. Can't wait. 

Click HERE for your printable sheet

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Creating Home As A Single Mom


Otto, (5 years old), grabbed my camera one morning and took this photo. I loved this shot even before he won first place in our town's photo contest for it.

When my oldest was 2 years old I started this blog. It was my way of documenting my life as a mom and wife, learning how to do this thing called home and recording the memories along the way. That was 11 years ago.
Over the years this space has grown from a memory palace to a resource for hundreds of thousands to learn the art of homemaking alongside me. I didn’t grow up with from-scratch desserts, bedtime stories and backyard parties with neighbors. But I always wanted to. Since childhood there’s been a deep seated curiosity in me for home. Family dinners, fort making in the living room, homework in the kitchen while pancakes get flipped, sleepovers with friends, Christmas garland on the stair rails, laughter, love, kids, two parents…
Today, after a decade of blogging, I write this post as a single mom. I’m nearly three months into the role and some/most days I can’t set the fear of the unknowns aside, let alone fight them.
(I won’t use this space to dive into the details of why I’m a single mom now. He is still a father to the boys and he is healthy and happy. That’s what we want most for those we love.)
Home is a universal craving of the soul. We all long to go home or be home – metaphorically or otherwise. Even when I go on the most relaxing vacation imaginable (hello St. Regis Bahia Beach), there’s always a longing for home. I didn’t grow up in a house that felt like home, so for me, home was with people. There were certain mentors and friends who became home for me. There were places, like the youth room at our church, that became home – the place of familiarity that my soul understood to be my place of safety and acceptance and love.
When I became a mom, I dedicated a large part of my day (those hours I might normally be at a 9-5 job) to creating the most quintessential version of home I could imagine. We didn’t have much money so this didn’t include outings to Pottery Barn for bunk beds and train sets. My focus became not on the appearance of the home but rather the heart of the home. The quality of time we shared together. The hospitality we extended to others. The creativity we expressed. The food we learned to cook. The gardens we grew. The projects we tackled. The nurturing of the hearts that slept under its roof each night. I did fail at times…I promise I’m no June Cleaver.
What shakes me at the core today is this sense of loss of home. The place of certainty and rest. Of love and laughter. Of family holidays and backyard parties. There’s a hole right now and it is visible (and invisible) in every room the boys and I walk through.

     -There is no longer ‘mom and dad’s room’.
     -His office is now nearly empty. Pictures removed, stacks of papers gone. What do we do with that space now? Is it still called ‘dad’s office’ when I ask the boys to open a window or is it now 'the green room’?
     -The coffee pot that, for 18 years, started percolating each morning at 6am has been replaced with a Keurig. That’s a palate adjustment.
    -What do I do with the mail that comes with his name? I guess it stays by the door until I see him next.
     -There is no longer my side of the bed. The bed is now mine.
     -How do you get the toilet to stop running? My 24-hour solution was to put a paintbrush handle in some mechanism in the tank. Worked like a charm – just no using the guest bathroom for a while.

      -The dinner table is now set with 4 plates.

I wish I was the only one that noticed and was affected by these changes. The kids have been rockstars through this but no one is exempt from the pain of losing a part of their body. We were a unit and now we are not. There is and must be mourning in that.
I am not rushing through this period of grief and loss too quickly. I want to honor its lessons in my life. But, each day I get a bit more of my mojo back and when that happens, our home also does too.
Life looks so good ahead. SO good. There are projects that I am dying to tell you about!! There are trips ahead and memories to be made. So so much goodness in store.
Last week I cried out to God in a place of utter loneliness. I asked Him to remind me that I am loved. Loved by Him and loved by others. I know I am but sometimes we need an extra sprinkling when perspective is lost. In the days that followed that prayer, a sprinkling did not come. Instead I was given a waterfall. We haven’t shared this news with many, so only a handful knew I was traveling this road. Yet, my beautiful friends from around the world sensed I needed a note, a text, an email, or a hug last week and they gave it. I cried every time. I cry about it right now.
One of my mantras has always been ‘everything you want is on the other side of fear.’ Its led the way for me as I’ve crushed career goals over the past few years but I’ve never had use for it in my personal life. Until now. I see all that I want for myself and those I love and fear of the unknown will not win out.

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**The kids dad is still plays an active role in the kids lives. Yes, I am now a single mother, but the kids are not fatherless. My heart aches for those who are and for women who must bear the load of motherhood entirely alone.

Finding Gentleness





(The scene: Starbucks. 5pm. My 13-year-old son and I are set up with laptops, editing a shared Google document that contains his upcoming speech. In typical just-became-a-teenager mode, he has zero…zero…attention span at present.)

Me: We’ve been here for an hour and you haven’t finished this speech. Come on buddy.

Son: (types two words. Picks up a pencil to read “Ticonderoga” carved into its side and sets it back down. Types something else. I look at my screen and he’s just sent me two emoges. He looks across the table at me and smiles.)

Me: Seriously. I’m starting to get irritated. I need to get home to make dinner.

Son: Mom, I’m trying to think. I really am! Ok, I’ll try to hurry.

(Minutes pass. Nothing is added to the speech).

Me: This is ridiculous. Can you please just finish this? Why do you keep looking everywhere but the computer screen? Can’t you just focus? (This is somewhat of a rhetorical question.)

Son: (smiles and then types on his computer keyboard. The message pops up on my screen: “I don’t think so”)

Me: I sigh, pack up my things and tell him with my “I’m over it” mom eyes, “It’s time to hit the road.”

 Gentle.

A dictionary would describe it as ‘a person of mild temperament or behavior. Moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.” I would describe it as something I think I lose a little more each day.

And I’m desperately trying to get it back.

Writer Mary Ann Becklenberg said this: we are short on others because we are frustrated with ourselves. And reading that was like having a cast iron skillet smack me in the face. Holy shit that hurt.

It’s never easy to be confronted with a shortcoming. It’s even harder when our own conscience is the one doing the dirty work.

When I reflect on that interaction with my son, I could easily justify my frustration. He was disregarding my (justifiable) prodding. And I did have good reason to be frustrated, feeling the urgency to cook, feed and clean-up before bedtimes.

But what bothered me most about that hour at Starbucks (and too many more like it) is that really I wanted to do a Homer Simpson strangle on my Bart. Internally, I was anything but gentle in spirit. And although outwardly I think I passed the test of displaying some level of gentleness, the irritation of my heart, mind and spirit told the real story.

Kind, tender, sympathetic, considerate, understanding, compassionate, benevolent, good-natured. These attributes are what I want to know myself for. I have them in doses, at times. But I want them, in larger doses, to reside throughout every molecule of my being.

Is there anything stronger than possessing gentleness? To do so is to have character that is consistent, reliable, and steady. A weak person cannot do that. Leo Rosten goes as far as to say, “Gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.”

I have a small, but ever-growing, list of people I admire. A few are bold. Adventurous. Risk-takers. Achievers. Leaders. Others are what most would consider to be quite ordinary. Predictable. Mundane, even. I began writing out their characteristics a few months ago --- what was it I really admired in these people? The common denominator was gentleness.

Paul Newman has been my lifelong crush. No brainer. Those eyes. Lawd. His smile? Get outta town. I’ve watched old interviews he’s given. He always avoided reactionary responses to questions. Instead, you could almost see the mental step-back as he answered thoughtfully, gently, and with wisdom. Not sarcasm, brashness or flippancy. And yet, Mr. Newman – in all that blue-eyed glory- was a competitive racecar driver and swore like a sailor. (Newsflash: Embodying gentleness of spirit doesn’t mean you forgo your spunk.)

So how do I embody more of it? In a daily routine of deadlines, demands (both self-inflicted and otherwise), travels, speeches and chasing dreams, how do I ease my soul back towards gentleness of spirit? I listened to a podcast recently with a Hebrew professor talking about repentance. The interviewer asked, “Isn’t repentance about making an abrupt change…the 180 degree turn?” In my previous spiritual readings I have always been led to believe this, so I was nodding my head in agreement as she asked the question. His response surprised me. In essence he said, “Any slight turn in the right direction will get you to a different destination.”

Yes. Yes!
Baby steps.
Striving for improvement, not perfection.

My first baby step back towards a gentle spirit is learning to be gentle with myself. Referencing back to Becklenberg’s quote, I totally resonate with the truth that I lose gentleness because internally my spirit is spinning. Being gentle with myself is requiring me to let go of some expectations. Whether it’s to have dinner on the table within a certain hour, have a proposal arrive in someone’s inbox ahead of schedule (I error on the side of overachieving), make huge decisions that I’ve let sit on the backburner, or reading my kids a book before bed each night, I need to just chill the heck out on myself.

“How terribly hard many of us are on ourselves. Our reactions, and manner of response, to our unpleasant circumstances so often result in self-punishment administered in creatively cruel ways.

And to what degree is the management of our situations based upon an inability to lower self-expectations, as well as the pervasive fear of losing ourselves?”

Mary Ann Becklenberg

 
My second baby step towards gentleness is letting go. It’s the only way to truly free myself from that internal spinning.

When my jeans won’t button….let it go. (Hard one.)
When my business meeting gets cancelled 15 minutes before….let it go.
When my husband checks his phone in the middle of my story….let it go. (Verges on impossible.)
When my idea is claimed by another….let it go.
When the cookies get over baked…let it go.
When the coffee shops blares b-side 70’s rock tracks at 6am…let it go.

When I can start letting things go, then these daily frustrations however miniscule they may be, no longer own me. They no longer reside in my belly to fester and then bubble up to a moment of unreasonable irritability towards another.

I want to start moving to a place of choice. To have the insight to see the implications and consequences of all of my actions. And reactions. Not giving over to the angsty feeling that arises because I feel I’m missing the mark.

Most people, including myself, haven’t always been surrounded by gentleness. Which makes its power even more visible when it’s present. Every day I’m turning my radius just a bit more in the direction it needs to be headed. Just don’t ask me about it when the third batch of cookies has burned. I’m nowhere close to that kind of sainthood.

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