The Mess Left Behind

Today Messi and I were working on a wooden birdhouse.  I had saved some of our old Washington license plates for just such a project.  Unfortunately, I knew they were in my damp basement, which is home to all sorts of critters and creeps me out to no end.  So, after Messi and Bolt were unable to locate the license plates, I ventured downstairs.  Before my ex left I had asked him to clean up the basement, which he had been promising to do since a water pipe burst a year ago.  He said he cleaned it up and, for the most part, he had.  However, on the search for the license plates we found a whole area which had been neglected, including a damp box of photo albums.  As the box disintegrated in my hands, the albums fell to the cement floor.  In that box were the photo albums of the first years of our marriage, our wedding guest book, and his old baby book and childhood photos. His photos were damp, but mostly salvageable.  The other albums were a soggy, moldy mess.  The irony was not lost on me.  I chucked the evidence of our first happy years, before he started cheating on me, into the trash.  There are days I wish I could do the same with my memories.  The reality is, though, that affairs are messy and brutally painful.  While he moved out and basically tried to shut a door on the past 14 years, I am left holding the sopping, moldy mess of our shared history.  I am hurting, my sons are hurting, meanwhile he jumped into a new relationship with her and a whole bunch of kids, seemingly not grieving the loss of my sons and I.  I wouldn’t trade places with him, though.  I would much rather be left cleaning up the mess and rebuilding my life than pretending like it never happened.  I am a product of my past, but I want to learn from it and build on it.  So, while I may have thrown away years of evidence of the best years in my marriage, it is still part of me and of that I have no regrets.

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Coming Home

In one of my favorite podcasts, which I mentioned previously, For the Love with Jen Hatmaker, she asks all her guests “what is saving your life right now?”.  I have thought about this question as I have listened to these podcasts over the past month and initially I was unsure of the answer.  However, over the past two weeks, the phrase that keeps coming back to me is “coming home”.

When you envision “home” what comes to mind?  Is it a place, a feeling, a sound, a sight, or a smell?  For me it is all of it.  For the longest time after relocating from Washington to Pennsylvania, I wondered if Pennsylvania would ever feel like home to me.  It is only over the past few months that I have really begun to embrace my new community, quirks and all, and pull into my driveway and feel like I am home.  I rent this cute little 90-year-old red house full of oddities from being built up and out over nearly a century.  The house is in a beautiful neighborhood where everyone is on about an acre (including me) with lots of old oak and maple trees.  In our neighborhood there are various ponds, and streams and I enjoy the beauty of nature while walking the dogs.

IMG_20170805_113700_814When I walk into my front door, chaos often erupts as I am greeted by two Labradors, two affectionate cats, and, of course, my two rambunctious sons.  Half of the time my front room is littered with dirty socks, empty boxes from Amazon and whatever project Messi is working on.  Laundry sits on the couch, dog toys provide an obstacle course, and one of the boys has always left a backpack out on the floor.  It isn’t that we are slobs, but my sons have not yet mastered picking up after themselves and I have been unable to train the dogs to put their toys away.  There are days that the chaos gets to me, but more and more I find myself walking into my home and feeling peace in the chaos because it is mine!  There is the business of running to and from activities, juggling chores, refereeing arguments, but also eating together, watching movies, or planning new adventures.  This is my family and this is us loving, fighting, laughing, crying and just living life.

Coming home is saving my life right now.  Coming home reminds me of God’s grace and the power of redemption.  In the wake of one of the darkest periods in my life, God has given me the gift of home.

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Dancing in the Rain

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Vivian Greene

I have this quote up on a wall in my house.  It is inspirational and reminds me to live in the here and now.  A summer storm blew through Pennsylvania this evening and I opened the door to let the dogs in from their evening bathroom run.  As I waited for them to come in from the rain, I heard the glorious sound of raindrops on the roof above me and I got a sudden urge to dance in the rain.  I let the dogs in and grabbed my phone and put on a song and I danced under the canvas of darkness and heavy rain.  It is one thing to do it figuratively, but another to do it literally.  There was something cleansing and healing and freeing about feeling the warm summer rain pour down on my head and across my skin.  The darkness allowed me the freedom to dance, skip, walk and just feel.

A friend posted this today:

“Morrie Schwartz, who taught social psychology at Brandeis, was the subject of the best-selling book “Tuesdays with Morrie”, his final teachings to his friend Mitch Albom before death. In the midst of the agony of Lou Gehrig’s disease, he told his last student:

What I’m doing now,” he continued, his eyes still closed, “is detaching myself from the experience.”

Detaching yourself?

Yes, detaching myself… You know what the Buddhists say? ‘Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent.'”

But wait, I said. Aren’t you always talking about experiencing life? All the good emotions, all the bad ones? How can you do that if you’re detached?

Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it.”

I’m lost.

Take any emotion – love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to be detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘Alright, I have experienced that emotion, I recognize that emotion. Now I’m free to detach from that emotion for a moment’…I know you think this is just about dying, but it’s like I keep telling you. When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

Today I found out my ex-husband of just over a week announced his engagement to his Facebook tribe.  I knew it was coming…he had called and told me a wedding date over a month ago, but I was surprised by the grief this news brought on.  I felt worthless and disrespected on unloved, even though I know none of it was true.  Instead of trying to hide from those feelings, I let myself marinate in them for a little bit and remind myself of what is true.  I am loved and deserve respect and I am priceless to my sons, my family, and to God.  So, as the rain pelted me tonight and I danced, I allowed myself the freedom to let go and to live and to dance through this storm…

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Letting Go to Live

On Friday night, I found myself sitting in the dark filled with melancholy, which has been fueled by my exhaustion.  I started my new job this week working “normal” hours (9-5:30) for the first time in my career as a nurse.  I am eager to establish a new routine and a new normal for the boys and I, but I was just so very tired.  I have been waking every morning before dawn to workout, walk the dogs, and have a short quiet time before waking Bolt for his summer school classes.  By the time Bolt hops on the bus, I have approximately 30 minutes to shower and get ready before hopping in the car for my 40-minute commute.  This week work has been brutal as I have been staring at a computer screen doing corporate training for five straight days.  I often find that with any major transition, such as a move or new job, it zaps my energy and drains my battery like a phone on data roaming.  By the time I get home from work it is nearly 6:30 and this week I have been blessed with a sitter who had the boys fed and off to their evening activities by the time I got home (with the help of Blue Apron).

As I sit here, I worry about the coming months, once soccer kicks into full gear, and school resumes for the boys and for myself.  I worry about how I will learn to juggle kids, pets, exercise, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, school work, laundry, as well as fitting in some fun and laughter.  I am a worrier by nature and these are the things that will wake me from dead sleep, even when exhausted.  I am trying to learn to let go of certain things and embrace others.

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Things to Let Go

  • Elaborate, home cooked vegetarian meals every night
  • Clean house with all the boys’ clothes and dog toys picked up before bed
  • Dinner at the same time every night with the same food for everyone
  • Staying up until midnight trying to get ready for the next day
  • Keeping too tightly to a schedule
  • Making sure everything is “done” before allowing myself some time for fun or doing something fun with the boys

Things to Embrace

  • Simpler, home cooked meals (some with meat for the boys, if I have vegetarian leftovers for myself) with meal prepping on Sundays
  • Clean kitchen at night (if the kitchen is clean, my whole house feels cleaner)
  • Planning our evenings ahead so that I know when we can try to eat together, even if it is at 8 pm.
  • Giving myself a bedtime (a tired mom does not make for a nice mom or good employee)
  • Continuing to get up early for exercise, dog walking, and quiet time for my mental and spiritual health
  • Looking ahead at the week on Sunday so that things don’t catch me by surprise, but also allow for deviations in schedule
  • Spontaneous and planned fun activities

At the end of the day, my sons may not remember the beautiful meal I made with all the food groups, but they will remember the 15-minute spontaneous pillow fight (thus the reason I have a stash of old pillows under my bed) or roasting s’mores in the back yard.  In the meantime, I seriously need to find a few single mom hacks to make life just a little bit easier.  The rest I must give over to God.

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I Thought You Said You Were Strong

Tonight, Messi and I were driving home from soccer and just chatting about our day and somehow got on the topic of his dad.  I found myself staring ahead sadly and clenching my teeth (a new habit I cannot seem to break).  Messi looked over at me and I told him how I am trying not to talk badly about his dad in front of him, but sometimes it is hard and hearing about him and his new life makes me sad.  Messi suddenly said, “but I thought you said you were strong”.  I started at the comment and it made me wonder where Messi began equating sadness with weakness.  It became a teachable moment for him as I explained that being sad doesn’t mean you aren’t strong.  He followed up his comment with, “then what does it mean to be strong?”.

What is strength (for me)?

  • Getting out of bed to feed my kids when I feel like burying myself under the covers in grief.
  • Showering, shaving my legs, wearing nice clothes and makeup when it seems like no one cares or notices.
  • Exercising, not to be thin, but to be healthy and help battle depression and anxiety.
  • Going to work every day and finding a new job to fit with the changing needs of my family.
  • Walking my dogs, for their health and enjoyment, and for my emotional well-being.
  • Re-engaging with my faith and not being bitter with God.
  • Planning new adventures for myself and for my family (Costa Rica – we are yours for 10 days in February).
  • Talking and writing about my story because I am the only one who can.
  • Embracing both old and new friendships.
  • Having fun
  • Allowing myself to engage with my emotions – grief, joy, anger, forgiveness, anxiety, and peace.

I gave Messi kind of a less articulate response to his question, but this was the essence of it.  Strength is a choice.  For me it is about living fully, tears of grief and joy, laughter at the absurd, and loving and being loved in return.

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Boundaries

Some people talk about how they really struggle to set boundaries with their time, commitments and relationships.  Due to the nature of my job as a nurse, often my easiest “boundary” was “no, I can’t because I have to work that night or that weekend”.  So, I have never been one of those women who felt they could “do it all”.  Yes, I have volunteered for various things for my sons’ schools and brought treats for soccer games, but I have rarely been in the type of job where I can regularly commit to anything.  So, having never really needing to frequently set boundaries, the past few months I have been doing just that.

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The hardest boundary I have had to set, is cutting my ex-husband out of my life, other than contact regarding the boys.  Initially, we had agreed to remain Facebook “friends” so that he could see pictures of the boys and keep up with their lives.  For the first few weeks, it went okay.  We even had a few nice talks about the boys.  That all changed shortly after he left when, without going into the dirty details, there were some things I discovered after he moved out that disgusted and disturbed me and where he lost any right to even that level of contact.  I sent him a message and explained that we were done and “unfriended” and “blocked” him.  People assumed I would have done that sooner, but we were trying to remain amicable and this was one way we were going to try doing so.  Then, a few weeks ago, I sent him an email with the dates of the boys’ Christmas break, so he could start thinking about airplane flights to visit him.  A few minutes after I sent the email, he texted me, asking if we could talk for a few minutes.  I foolishly assumed that he wanted to talk about the dates I gave him, so I called him back.  He then started talking, not asking one word about our sons, and said “well, I just wanted to call and let you know my wedding date before you heard it from someone else”.  This conversation took place weeks before our divorce was even finalized.  Admittedly, I lost it.  I yelled at him and cried and told him how dare he call and talk about his wedding to another woman when he was still married to me.  Shortly after that conversation, I sent him a text telling him not to contact me at all unless it involved the boys.  After I told him that, not only did he not contact me, but he also refused to have any conversations about some health issues the boys were facing.  I resorted to emailing him and leaving it there.  On Friday, July 7th, the paperwork finalizing our divorce, was submitted to the judge.  Monday morning, he emailed, called, and texted, at first asking, then demanding that I make him copies of 6 years’ worth of financial records so that he could get a loan for the house he was buying for his new family.  Initially, I started to help him, then it hit me that I had told him to take care of all of this before he left, but no, he had spent two to three hours a day on the phone with her and had gone shopping for stuff for his new home rather than make copies of our joint financial records.  So, after stewing on it for a few hours, I emailed him and told him “no” and that I wasn’t his wife anymore and under no obligation to help him, so he needed to figure it out himself and reminded him to leave me alone.  There is part of me that wanted to help, but I really had to think about my own motivation for helping (like him thinking of me kindly).   It would have been one thing to help with something for the boys, but why on earth should I be expected to assist him in buying a home for the woman he left me for?  No, no, and no.  I also realized that by dialoging with him regarding these records, I was allowing him to violate a previously established boundary.

 

Interestingly, I have also started to set some firm boundaries with the boys on certain issues.  Messi has started to push hard on attending church and every Sunday morning is a battle.  I have remained firm that we will be attending church as a family and every week he seems determined to make me regret that decision.  This past week was the worst and he threw a teenage temper tantrum (eye rolling, ear plugging, dramatic sighs) in the middle of the service, so I pulled him out to talk to him.  As I tried to talk, he pulled out a full repertoire of words meant to hurt me.  I know a lot of this was lashing out in anger over everything going on in our life, but there is a fine line between giving him grace for his grief and setting boundaries for our family interactions. Later that afternoon, when we had both cooled off, I talked to him.  I told him that I understood he didn’t want to go to church and that he was angry at his dad and angry at me, but that in our family, we do not use our words as weapons to intentionally hurt one another.  He listened and apologized.  I know we will all weaponize our words again, but I am trying to establish that it isn’t who we are as a family.

In the 6 weeks that my ex-husband remained in my home, I really struggled to distance myself emotionally from him.  Yes, he had hurt me, but you can’t just flip a switch on 14 years of marriage.  Often at night, after work, when I was tired and vulnerable, I would go up to let him know something about the kids and found myself just crying to him.  One night he just sat there rolling his eyes and said, “I am not your therapist, please get out”.  It was harsh and cruel, but true.  I hadn’t been able to build that boundary around my heart yet, and I was being vulnerable to someone that did not deserve that level of intimacy.  I am also having to work on the role he continues to take in my mind and heart.  Part of the way I chose to build a boundary around my mind is by removing things that triggered me to think on him and us – whether through blocking him on social media or removing photos of him from my home.  I recognize that the pain and anger will lessen with time, but I also know that sometimes I need to choose not to engage with those emotions.  There is a time and place for that grieving and anger to be released, but I don’t always have to be at the mercy of my emotions.  This is a hard season and God is showing me how to create boundaries which will allow for my healing.

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Healing Through Connection

Choosing to remain in Pennsylvania and not retreat to my beloved Washington State as I began the journey of single parenting, was a challenging decision.  In the two years I had lived here, I had yet to make many meaningful connections, and, while my sons were doing well, I knew that I would need my own tribe to support me.  I sat crying to God one night that I couldn’t do this alone and over the past few months he has placed some amazing people in my path who are walking along side me.  However, this has required me going outside of my comfort zone.

In the first few weeks of my discovery of the betrayal, I reached out to those “safe” people – immediate family and a few friends who I have known for over 10 years.  I had allowed some of the relationships with some of my oldest friends fall into disrepair over the past few years, but with one phone call, we picked up where we left off.  This group of amazing women have talked to me late at night and listened to me cry, rant, and process.  I also have never been super close with my sister and was very embarrassed to call and share what was going on, but she has been a rock of support during this time and has taken the boys for fun weekend adventures in Brooklyn, NY, where she lives.

The adoption community can feel like a very small world at times.  Over the years, I have kept in touch with many adoptive moms, either because our kids knew each other in Ethiopia or because our kids have similar health issues.  Most of these women are also very familiar with the often-lonely road of parenting a child with an attachment disorder.  These are the women who have helped me process the betrayal by “one of our own” and helped provide wisdom on how to help my sons cope. They cheer on my successful parenting moments and are a great listening ear when it all becomes too much.

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Image credit and The Story for my choice of photos

Over the past 18 months, I have run into several people from a local church.  I have run into them at my work, my son’s school, and through mutual connections.  It was like God was starting to put them into place, before I knew I needed them, so that when my world crumbled, I could find a church home for the boys and I.  Ironically, this church community has a whole ministry dedicated to serving adoptive families and has also been having some tough discussions about social justice and racial issues, both issues near and dear to my heart.  Some of my newest friends are women I have met through this church connection who are also adoptive moms.

Probably the most important connection of all, though, has been the process of reconnecting with myself and my faith.  This process is often lonely and reconnecting with my heart has been done in tears, in prayer, in walks outside, in listening to music and podcasts, in reading, and in the silence of allowing myself to feel.  Somedays the process of reconnecting to myself and my savior has left me crushed by the weight of my emotions and yelling at God for allowing this to happen.  At the same time, I feel like I have a better understanding of who I am as a woman, a mother, and a child of God, than ever before.  I will leave you with my new anthem, by recording artist, Nichole Nordeman…

They told me
I’d never get to tell my story
Too many bullet holes
It would take a miracle
These voices
Inside my head like poison
Trying to steal my hope
Silencing my soul

But my story is only now beginning
Don’t try to write my ending
Nobody gets to sing my song

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

These pieces
The ones that left me bleeding
Intended for my pain
Became the gift You gave me
I gathered those pieces into a mountain
My freedom is in view
I’m stronger than I knew

And this hill is not the one I die on
I’m going to lift my eyes and
I’m going to keep on climbing

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving

I’m still here
Say it to the ache, lying there awake
Say it to your tears
I’m still here
Say it to the pain, say it to the rain
Say it to your fear

This is the sound of surviving
This is my farewell to fear
This is my whole heart deciding
I’m still here, I’m still here
And I’m not done fighting
No, I’m not done fighting
And I am still rising, rising
I’m still rising
And I’m not done fighting
This is the sound of surviving