When Thankfulness is Hard

It is the first major holiday as a family of three.  The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart.  I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart.  Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season.  So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.

Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me.  I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became.  And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.

I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal.  We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams.  We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.

I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most.  I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community.  It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs

Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons.  The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard.  We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma.  There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them.  But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.

So, yes, being thankful is hard this  year.  My grief and joy are strange bedfellows.  I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year.  But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.

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Six Months

It has been six months since the life I thought I know was turned upside down.  At this moment 6 months ago, I had just heard the words “I want a divorce” and then the subsequent revelation of months of deceit.  Six months ago the life I thought I know, turned upside down.  I think it is the appropriate time to reflect on what that has looked like for the boys and I.

The Ugly

  • No one is unaffected by an affair. As I write this, I am in the process of trying to figure out how to get the cat that my ex took out of a shelter in Wyoming and relocate it to Pennsylvania.  Apparently, the cat did not adjust well to the move and a life with small children and lashed out by scratching one, so my ex surrendered her to a shelter.  Even our pets have been hurt by this affair.
  • The raw emotions…to this day moments of grief and anger and even love, will invade my heart when I least expect them.
  • My sons are growing up without a father as part of their day to day life. I am having those conversations about teen boy puberty while never having walked that path.
  • Trust issues and skepticism about relationships are my new norm. I often find myself looking around rooms wondering about the secrets people are harboring.
  • Exhaustion is part of my day to day life. From the exhaustion of grief to the exhaustion of being a single mom…it is my new reality.
  • The financial impact of going from a two-income family to one has been hard on myself and my sons. In my 30s, I should feel financially settled, but instead, I find myself scared about the next bill.
  • The retriggering of old wounds of loneliness and infertility have been pushed to the forefront again.

The Beautiful

  • Bolt and I have never had a stronger relationship. It is hard, because he has become my shadow and will go everywhere with me, but it also means that he is holding on to me.  We talk more than ever and laugh more too!
  • The relationships that have grown through the mess have been amazing. I went from feeling alone prior to the revelation to feeling a community and family I didn’t know existed.
  • My faith had been struggling for years for a variety of reasons, but through this process I have found God to be faithful to provide what I need.
  • Contentment comes easier. Sometimes the simplest things…. a great meal or a cuddle with my dogs or a great family movie night help bring me such contentment in the moment.
  • The future is unknown. Some may think this would be hard, particularly for a control freak like myself, but there is something so freeing about not knowing the future and learning to hand that over to God.
  • Beauty in creation is easier to appreciate. I have a new beautiful niece, who I want to meet in the next year.  I am loving just being outside and feeling the air on my skin or watching a sunset or my sons playing in the surf at the Jersey Shore.
  • Finding out that I am stronger than I thought has been an enormous surprise. Seven months ago, the idea of four days parenting alone was overwhelming…now I am nearly five months in and surviving.

There is probably so much more to say, but it is late and I am tired, with a full day planned for tomorrow.  Let me just say that 6 months later, I am still grieving daily and scared and overwhelmed, but I have also seen God’s provision for the boys and I.  I expect that six months from now, the ugly will be less and the beauty will be more.  It has been amazing to recognize the reality of resurrection after death…

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Reflections on Charlottesville

Yet again I found myself watching in horror as the events of Charlottesville unfolded.  There are days that I experience disbelief that in 2017 we are still seeing such overt displays of racism and bigotry.  In just a few weeks, the 54th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech will take place and it feels like we are still fighting the same battle that he fought.  Racism was on full display in Charlottesville on August 11th and 12th and many people have spoken out in horror about those events, which were horrific, indeed.  However, let us not forget the more subtle acts of racism and intolerance that take place on a daily basis in the communities around the United States.  There are women who experience mockery for wearing a hijab, or the people who cross the street if they see an African American man walking towards them at night, or the gay man that is beat up outside of a bar just because of his sexual orientation, or the Hispanic student mocked about “the wall”.  My own sons have had the experience of being followed by guards at stores and last fall my son was mocked and told that the new president would send “people like him back to Africa”.  When we observe this more subtle acts of intolerance do we just look the other way?  I know I have, at times thinking “oh I don’t know what to say or how to help and don’t want to cause more problems”.

When reflecting on racism it is easy to think “oh, I am not like that”.  It also makes me wonder how far any of us is from becoming such a hate filled soul.  There is the part of me whose heart breaks for those who marched proudly in racism and hatred.  What kind of experiences have they had that makes them think that this is all okay?  What kind of deep pain makes them want to lavish others with hate?  I don’t know, but maybe that is just as an important part of the question.  Yes, we should all stand up against intolerance, but it is perhaps more important to prevent it.  May our daily lives be lived in love and empathy and compassion.  May we all reach out to the broken and the hurting and embrace them.  May we teach our children to seek out the lonely and unlikeable.  May we all love as we have been loved.  I leave you with this song lyric that has been on repeat for the past few days.

And hold all the mothers, whose babies bleed from bullet holes
And feel all the hunger, the bellies and the bones
Shout for the prisoner, cry for justice, loud and long
And march with the victims, as Jesus marches on
And sit at all the tables, ’cause Jesus eats with everyone
And dance to the music, if you can’t sing its native tongue
And cry for the wombs, the mothers and the empty arms
And hold high the warriors, fighting now for freedoms’ song

And love, love, love, love
Like it’s your own blood
And love, love, love, love
As you have been loved
Love, love, love, love
Like it’s your own blood
Love, love, love, love
As you have been loved
Love, love, love, love, love
Like [you have been?]
Love, love, love, love, love
It’s all about love!
Love, love, love, love, love
His name is love
Love, love, love, love, love

Dear Me …
You did not learn this in a day or two or three
So ask a lot of questions
But Jesus loves us, this I know
And there are no exceptions

“Dear Me” ~ Nichole Nordeman

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No Longer a “We”

I got married at the ripe old age of 21.  Granted, I was a pretty mature 21-year-old, but I was still very young.  I had gone from living with my parents to college, where I had two roommates, then I met my ex-husband and we married the summer before our senior year of college.  I don’t regret any of that.  However, because I married so young and never lived alone, I never really developed my own identity.  I was always part of a “we” as an adult.  There are wonderful things about that.  I didn’t flounder in dating land for years.  I didn’t get my heart broken by boys and men.  I learned early to make sacrifices for the happiness of another person.  Essentially, we grew up together.  We really began our adulthood as a couple.  We made our first major financial decisions together.  We experienced some of our greatest sorrows together.  We became parents together.  My adult life has relished being part of a “we”.

Overnight, the man who felt like half of me, vanished.  I honestly felt like someone had cut off all my limbs and I didn’t know how to walk or even move without him at my side.  That is the beauty of marriage, the whole “two becoming one”.  But when that one becomes two again, it is messy and it is like learning to swim without any limbs.  I missed the comfort of waking up next to the comfort of my best friend.  I had never made any major decisions as an adult without his input and suddenly I found myself having to make decisions for myself and my sons without him.  While I was trying to figure this out alone, he was planning his new life with her and her kids.  He jumped from one we to another we.  Even now, months later, I still talk about my life and my parenting as “we” …I suspect I will get better taking individual ownership over time, but I am not there yet.

Despite the grief over losing my partner in crime, I am finding some freedom in it.  Suddenly the future is the great unknown.  I get to do things I find fun, plan events that interest me, and spend my evenings focusing on my priorities. Other than my sons, I don’t have to consider another person when making decisions.  In just a few short years my sons will probably be on their own life adventure.  One may live with me for a while, but for the most part I get to start planning my own future.  I resume graduate school for public health at the end of the month and by the time I graduate, both of my sons will be in high school.  I feel like in some ways, suddenly the sky is the limit.  I don’t know what the future holds, but maybe, for the first time in my life, I am learning to embrace the adventure known as life.

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The Present Parent

I often find myself wondering how I ended up alone raising two nearly teen boys.  I know the logistics, of course, but seriously!  I wouldn’t say that I am a girly-girl, but I am not a tomboy either and I often look at my sons in complete confusion.  They laugh at farting and wear their clothes to bed and argue about the benefits of deodorant while falling out of their chairs in hysteria over The Simpsons.  I love Anne of Green Gables, collect teacups, enjoy sewing, and watching Gilmore Girls.  Of course, we have things we enjoy doing together like going to the Jersey Shore and boogie boarding or soccer (them playing, me watching), and eating great food, but often the male mind is a complete mystery to me and here I am raising two young men without the benefit of a male voice in their daily lives.  I know many single moms do it, but none of them are me!  I also think the timing of their father leaving us is just so perplexing.  I feel they are at such an age where they need a father and theirs moved across the country.  Sure, they talk to him on the phone and he buys cool gifts, like a new BMX bike for Bolt, or plays Playstation 4 with them online, but the day-to-day dad they have known and loved for the past 8 years is gone.  I find myself having to still be the mom they know while having to take over some of the roles their dad used to do.

Messi and I spent all day Saturday building a birdhouse from scratch.  Many failed attempts later, we completed it, but it looks just a little off.  Not that I felt like a failure, but I just sat on the floor in frustration wishing I knew how to help him with the project better and wondering if he was thinking “I wish dad was here”.  I know there were moments I thought it, but those same moments are followed by the crushing reality that his dad chose to leave them.  So, yes, the birdhouse is complete, but then Amazon delivered 2 precut kits that he put together while I worked today…and they look much better!

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Then, I knew Bolt had his first crush on a girl and Messi has been teasing him mercilessly.  So, I let the teasing go because that is what brothers do, but when it is just Bolt and I driving in the car, I try to talk to him about different things.  So, I finally found out that they are boyfriend and girlfriend (whatever that means at this age)!  They text funny things like “how is your day?”.  I will admit I am approaching this news with equal parts terror and excitement.  I am excited because my socially awkward 8th grader actually likes a girl and talks to her.  I am terrified for those exact reasons.  Not to mention, I am trying to teach him about healthy relationships and sexuality and purity and everything, all while his dad is demonstrating exactly the opposite.  Such a hard place to be.  At the same time, I encouraged him because this girl he runs track with and I am so happy he likes someone who enjoys the same activity he does.  Don’t we all want relationships with people who share our passions?

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I sat on the phone last night talking about this all with a friend and with my dad.  It is so frustrating to be the only “present” parent.  I am the only one here every day to help my sons navigate becoming young men.  It is scary place to be, but also an honor and a privilege to walk this journey with them.  I know it is going to be full of false starts and detours and mistakes, but I need to trust that God will give me wisdom and guidance along the way.

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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