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.
I was talking to someone this week and she mentioned that I don’t talk a lot about how I feel, but instead I tell lots of stories. That really has been something I have been mulling over this week. Do I tell stories because I don’t want to engage with my feelings? The more I thought about this, the more I realized the opposite is true.
I love stories…some of my hardest periods in life were walked through by burying myself in the stories of others. I went through long Anne of Green Gables phase in my very difficult middle school years. As I was struggling, I found myself escaping to the world of Prince Edward Island. That habit of almost obsessively reading the same books, like Anne or Pride and Prejudice has continued into my adulthood. I also lose myself to certain television shows and will watch them over and over…my repeat list includes CSI, Gilmore Girls, The West Wing, and The Good Wife. I have watched them all multiple times, but they are like comfort food to me.
Over the past few years, though, I have found myself listening more to the stories of real people. When I started to sit across the table from people or dialogue one on one with people, I really began to understand the complexities of human emotion. Each story doesn’t have a singular emotion, but rather a complicated web of the emotions of the human experience. The people who I find myself drawn to are the ones who are willing to share their stories and talk honestly about how those stories make them feel.
Now, I find myself living a story I never imagined, but rather than hide from my emotions, I am trying go engage with my emotions in connections to various chapters of this story. I am not one who naturally talks about specific emotions in a general way, but rather I often use a particular story to place a feeling into context.
While the overarching feeling of this season is one of sadness, grief and loss, individual stories have played out differently. The baby situation created a feeling of absolute despair and panic. Watching my sons struggle often leads me to an angry place. Hearing that my ex has spoken lies about me makes me feel vengeful. This situation with my cat is just confusion and bewilderment. Reflecting on how far I have come just gives me a feeling of peace. But what are my day to day feelings at this point?
I feel lonely
I feel scared
I am anxious a lot
I feel a bone-weary fatigue
I also feel proud
I feel accomplished
I feel hopeful
And at times, I even find deep joy
I am learning a lot about myself during this season. It is often painful to live in the emotional rollercoaster that is my life right now, but I can see the walls that I have built around myself start to crumble and that is through living vulnerably and writing my own story.
One of the greatest gifts I feel like God has given me over the past few months is this renewed ability find humor in the everyday and beauty at surprising intervals. In the first few weeks following my discovery of the betrayal, I had those crushing moments and days where I wondered if I would ever be happy again. Lately, I have found my eyes and soul open and vulnerable, which has allowed me to see, hear, and feel more acutely, both in grief and beauty.
A few weeks ago, I stood at my kitchen at nearly midnight getting ready to finish shampooing my carpets (a monthly process in a home with 2 boys, 2 large dogs, and 2 cats). I had just made up a batch of carpet shampoo from some Pinterest recipe. I had run upstairs to grab my machine and stood in the kitchen looking at something on my phone when suddenly there is a loud “pop” and I found myself showered in bubbles. Looking around my kitchen there were bubbles dangling from the ceiling, the television, a framed picture and myself. Apparently, my homemade shampoo and continued to bubble up after I put the lid on until the pressure caused an eruption. My first instinct was to cry in annoyance knowing that more time had just been added to my day before I could curl up in bed. Then suddenly I found myself laughing this deep belly laugh over the humor of standing in my kitchen at midnight covered in bubbles.
Before the boys came home from Ethiopia, I used to enjoy sewing. After jumping off the high dive into parenting 4 & 5-year-old boys, I was just happy if I got laundry done and the kitchen cleaned. Now that they are older and help around the house and are more self-sufficient, I have begun doing things I enjoy again. One morning in May, I woke up and knew I wanted to start creating beautiful things again and I decided to start by making a baby quilt for my very first niece. For the past 6 weeks, I have been spending free moments listening to audio books and sewing. I finished it last week and I love it more than I imagined. This week the quilt will make a journey to the Midwest awaiting the arrival of its’ owner. Next up, aprons for a tribe of amazing women who have held me up during this time!
One of my favorite workout programs is this funny one called, “Sh’Bam” by Les Mills. It is just a mixture of dancing to different songs. For those of you that know me, you might remember that my dancing skills leave something to be desired. Someone recently compared it to Elaine on Seinfeld, which, admittedly, I had to look up. So, this program, allows me to perfect my dancing moves in the privacy of my home. However, lately my newly found dancing skills like to just randomly appear, most notably when our ER ambulance phone rings with “Danger Zone”. So, yes, that crazy nurse dancing to “Danger Zone” in the middle of the ER is me…I apologize for the traumatizing image.
Just two days ago, Bolt and I were driving home from Karate when I we passed some green hydrangea flowers. I began talking to Bolt about how, in a few weeks, those flowers would turn purple or blue or pink or white, dependent on the variety and the acidity of the soil. He began peppering me with questions and then started asking if unusual colors were possible. Suddenly, red and blue flashed in my rearview mirror and I pulled to the side of the road and a police officer pulled up behind me. Apparently, in my discussion over hydrangeas, I had not been paying attention to my speed. As we sat there waiting for the officer to run my information, I felt myself becoming overwhelmed and then upset as hydrangeas were the featured flower at my wedding. I began to feel the familiar anger with my ex-husband emerge as I thought how he had stolen my love for those flowers (and how, obviously, he would somehow be responsible for my ticket). Then, I looked up out of my car window, and right in front of me were a group of hydrangeas in full bloom and in my favorite periwinkle color. I looked at the blooms and began laughing hysterically at the irony. When I finished laughing, I looked at the flowers again and realized, they are still one of my favorite flowers, despite the painful association. The officer came back to my car and gave me a warning, and I drove home thinking about the comedy of the whole situation
When I was in the “depths of despair” (to quote my favorite heroine, Anne Shirley), grief threatened to steal my joy. It has been a conscious process on my part to not constantly wallow in pity, but to embrace the entire rainbow of my emotional healing. God has been faithful to provide opportunities for me to grieve, but also for me to experience laughter and joy and beauty again.