Dear Grandmother

It’s been almost eleven years since we said goodbye to you.  I wish I could talk to you now.   There is so much you taught me when I was child.  Now I’m all grown up and I’m scared.  I wonder what you would tell me if you were here.

Would you pat my hand with your pin-pricked fingers that crafted so many beautiful quilts and tell me that everything will be okay?  I remember your hands and the way they always made things better.  Would you knead bread dough and bake it for me – letting me cover it in your homemade strawberry preserves?  I remember how you baked that delicious bread every day and as I child I never imagined that there would come a day when I wouldn’t smell it baking.  Would you be proud of me?  I’ve messed up a lot and it seems like my life has been one bad decision after the other.  Sometimes I wonder if you’re in heaven crying with me.  Sometimes I worry that you’ve watched me fail in so many ways and that I’ve disappointed you.

When I am sad or when I’m struggling with life, I yearn for my carefree childhood days at your farm.  I remember playing with my Barbies under the big oak tree in your front yard.  I still have the Barbie clothes that you made for my dolls – tiny little pieces hand-stitched with love in every detail.  My new home has a built-in china cabinet and your china is going to look beautiful in it.  When I packed and left my home last month I was able to bring your quilts with me.  My daughter loves the pink flower garden quilt and someday I look forward to giving it to her on her wedding day.  A couple of months ago, Mom and I cooked your chocolate sheath cake that was in your handwritten cookbook. It was delicious. Once I’m in my new home and I’m able to unpack my belongings, I plan to read through all of your letters again.  Each one is filled with so much love and unconditional acceptance.  Your love was always so beautiful…so constant…so safe.

As a child, I never remember you being sad or worrying.  As an adult, I marvel at your strength.  I’m humbled by realizing now how remarkable you were in being so full of life even after you survived the death of your husband in your arms and the sudden tragic death of your son at a young age.  As we skipped down the country roads near your home and looked for frogs in the water spouts, walked in the woods and learned the names of all of the wildflowers and read through our Sunday School lessons each Saturday night, your faith and your love were constant.  You were never worried or scared.  I hope someday I can be as strong as you.  Remember when the tornado tore up your house and destroyed your young garden and crops?  I was terribly upset and scared to see your beautiful home, my safe haven, so bruised and broken.  You weren’t shaken or upset – instead you were grateful to have survived in the dirt cellar under your home and confident that everything would be okay.  And it was. I hope someday I’ll be able to face all that life hands to me with a grace and dignity that honors your memory.

My children are growing up into such extraordinary people.  I wish they had a chance to know you and feel the warmth of your love.  My daughter is getting ready to graduate from college and she’s beautiful in so many ways.  She has the kindest heart of anyone I know and she’s fiery in her compassion for others.  Last year she fell in love with a wonderful man who loves her very well in return.  He is everything I ever hoped for in a man for my daughter and they are beautiful together.   My son was only a baby the last time you saw him.  Today he is an incredibly strong and confident young man who has battled through so much in his young life.  His smile will brighten up the room and he is remarkable in so many ways.  Thank you for your beautiful example of how to raise children.  It is the model upon which I have raised these two beautiful people.

I miss you Grandmother and I still think about you every day.  As I work through life’s heartache and my difficult times, I close my eyes and pretend I’m back under that big oak tree…and I remember everything will be okay.

Why? Because.

letting go

On my old blog, I had a post that declared “Everything is exactly as it is supposed to be.”  I remember the confidence I had in that statement when I wrote it.  It’s easy to have that kind of confidence in your circumstances when your days are filled with joy and happiness.  Those good times after you’ve weathered the storm and can look back and say “Oh!  That’s why that horrible thing happened.”  When you’re in the middle of the storm, however, it can be difficult to see and believe in a life story in which everything works out okay in the end.  Let’s be honest…it’s not simply difficult…at times it feels completely impossible to believe in happy endings.

It was humbling to read my old blog post about having faith and believing that everything happens for a purpose.  “Everything precious to me has been harvested from the very things in my life that scarred and broke me.  Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing…for every difficult experience I’ve had in my life, even the most heartbreaking, played a integral role in creating something so beautiful that I would go back and do it all again.”  I thought I was being inspirational when I wrote those words, but now I can see that I was just being cocky.  I thought I had reached my happy ending, but now I know that it was just another chapter in my book.  A  good chapter, but just a chapter.  And finishing that chapter has forced me to reconcile myself to the words I wrote only a year ago and “walk the walk” to give my past voice integrity.

A friend recently told me “One of the hardest things to do in life is letting go of what you thought was real.  Maybe it was real at some point – who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  It was what it was and now it’s in your past.  You can’t move forward if you’re turned around looking behind you.  You can’t keep asking ‘Why?’ because only time will reveal that to you. Let it go and let God show you what He has planned for you.”  Wise words…true words.  For weeks I’ve been asking “Why?” and refusing to turn around and walk away.  How futile to keep staring at my past for answers that only my future will provide.

This past weekend I finally looked away from my past, turned around and stopped asking “Why?”  Someday I’ll understand, but for now I must rely on my faith that if God brings me to it, He’ll bring me through it.  And once I’m through it, I’ll be grateful to have been brought to it.  I would have never believed that I would eventually say “I’m grateful for what has happened and I wouldn’t change a thing.”  But over lunch with a dear friend Sunday afternoon, I said these words and I meant them.  Does it still hurt?  Yes…every day.  If given the choice, would I go back to the life I had before?  No…it isn’t an option and it wasn’t a life that was in the best interest of myself or my children.  If given the opportunity, would I choose to erase that chapter of my story?  Absolutely not….it was one of the best chapters I’ve had so far.

I’m grateful for the peace I’ve felt this week that has allowed me to answer that question that have chewed on my mind, heart and soul.  Now I know the answer and the answer is one that forces me to relinquish my arrogant belief that my story can be better written by me than by He who created me.  The answer is simple.

Why?  Because.

Welcome Home

hallway

He says come unto me
All who are weary
And I will give you rest
Bring what hurts
Bring your scars
Bring the load that you carry
And I will give you rest
~(Nicole C. Mullen, Come Unto Me)

“Mom,” my son said last week. “When are we going to be able to have a home that stays happy?”  His question jerked my heart and stung my pride.  While I am a very good mom in many ways, my poor choices have caused both of my children to endure multiple changes in their addresses, schools, friends and lives as they’ve grown up.  Both of my children have been robbed of the chance to have a stable unchanging place to call home throughout their childhood.  They’re survivors and they are troopers and they’ve both learned to weather the storms well – but they’ve been through way too many storms over the course of their young lives because of me.  My son’s question was one that required an answer.  Not just any answer…but an honest answer with an enduring integrity.

“I’m not sure when we’ll find our own place babe.  But I promise you that when we do, we’ll stay put and you’ll be able to call it home until you’re ready to leave and find a home of your own someday.”  To myself I thought “Okay Mom…you’ve just made your son a promise to do something for him that you’ve never done before.  You better dig deep and figure out a way to keep that promise – he needs it and he deserves it.  You can do this…with God’s help, you can do anything.”

I’ve been doing a lot of praying these days and finding a home for my teenage son to call home and my adult daughter to call “Mom’s house” has been a major topic in my conversations with God.  “Please God…please change my heart from fear to peace in knowing you have a plan for us.  Please help me find a home for my family.”

In my prayers, I try hard to not give God a checklist of my requirements, but the checklist scrolls through my mind constantly as I’ve worked on the task of finding a place for us to live.  I don’t want to share a wall with others – I’m too old and too cranky to deal with apartment dwelling at this point in my life.  I want a home small enough to heat and cool affordably but big enough to give us the space to live comfortably.  I want a  home in a quiet and well-maintained neighborhood.  I want a home with a yard big enough to have fun in but small enough to maintain easily.  I want a home that is beautiful and has character.  I want a front porch on which I can place the porch swing I’ve wanted for so long.  I want a house with laundry hookups so that I can wash my small family’s laundry without traveling to the laundromat.  I want a house with a large kitchen so that I can cook for my family in a room that’s big enough to accommodate my tendency to stockpile food and supplies.   I want a house that allows pets so that I can bring my pup back home and spoon her warm body at night.

I want all of these things and I have a limited budget…surely something was going to have to give.  I knew that at some point I was going to have to make some hard choices and needed to prioritize my list of house wishes. For weeks I’ve worked this problem in my head and it’s been a maddening circular effort that has resulted in little more than exasperation and frustration….and quite honestly, a few temper tantrums. I’m a grown woman…giving up any of these things seemed impossible.  But no matter how much I stomped my feet and declared it to be unfair, it was a reality I had to face…and soon.

Yesterday I received a call from my attorney letting me know my divorce papers had been prepared and were ready for my signature.  It was a call I had been looking forward to and dreading simultaneously…a complex paradigm of relief and acceptance juxtaposed with confusion and denial.  I went to her office and cried while I read over the legalese that so coldly laid out the rules and legal agreements upon which my marriage to a man I no longer recognize would be dissolved.  Dissolved…what an appropriate word for divorce.  The decay of something once tangible and real into nothing…like it was never really there in the first place.  I verified the paperwork reflected my decision to relinquish my husband’s name and return to my maiden name.  I double-checked the separation of our material possessions.  I filled in the blanks and I signed the papers where the little sticky indicators told me to sign.  Thirty minutes and it was over…just like that.  I was ready to just go home and cry…the day definitely did not look like one that would bring me cause to celebrate.  However – God had other plans for my day.

Just as I was finishing and gathering my things to leave the attorney’s office, my friend texted me and said “Hey…what’s your budget for a rental house?”  I had been working up a budget for the past couple of weeks – recognizing that was the first step in acknowledging my own reality and prioritizing my list of home wishes.  I replied to my friend and told her the amount I had determined as my max.  “Oh,” she replied, “I saw an ad in the paper for a 3-bedroom house and called the guy and talked to him.  It sounds perfect…but it’s $150 more than your budget.”  I decided to go ahead and drive by the house to see it…maybe I can find a way to squeeze a little more each month…especially if the house is my wish house.  Maybe I don’t really need to pay a professional  to cover the gray in my hair.  And maybe I can get by with my ailing vehicle for another year or two.  Maybe my utilities will be less than I’m estimating.  Maybe…maybe…maybe. I don’t handle “maybe’s” in my life very well, so I was actually hoping the house wouldn’t be as perfect as it sounded.

My friends picked me up and we drove to look at the house.  It was perfect.  It was exactly what I wanted and even a little more than I had wished.  I’ve always hated window shopping..I have never understood the concept of spending time looking at things I would like to purchase but can’t afford.  When I saw the perfect wish house that I couldn’t afford, I started berating myself…”Why in the world did you even look?  What good does it do to see it and think ‘Yep…that would be perfect if I could afford it.’ Why do I do this to myself?  Why is God playing with my emotions  like this?  Today has already sucked ass enough…I just want to go home and sleep until this doesn’t hurt anymore.”  Blah blah whine blah.

My friends ignored my self-pitying anxiety and decided to drive around the block one more time.  As we were turning the corner onto the street, another house caught our attention.  “Is that a ‘for rent’ sign in front of that house?” my friend said excitedly.  “I know that house!  It’s beautiful inside!” We called the number listed on the sign and learned that it was available but being shown to prospective renters that evening at 5:30.  We were able to schedule a walk-through for 4:30 and at 5:15 I signed the lease on my wish house.  It meets every wish I had for a home….every single one of them and even a few bonus features that I would have never imagined I could find in a home that I could afford.  And, as the proverbial icing on the cake, the rent was less than my budget.

Today I picked up my keys.  Next week I will start deep cleaning every inch of the house.  The week after that I will start moving my belongings into our new home.  And a month from now I’ll drive to St.Louis to celebrate Thanksgiving with the beautiful family that has been so generous in fostering my dog for the past five weeks….and I’ll bring her home with me when I return.

It would be so easy to slide into a position of dwelling on the things that hurt and disappoint me, but I’m reminded daily that isn’t a position I am supposed to assume. Instead I am supposed to be standing tall and demonstrating my faith in Him through my unshakable spirit and unwavering assurance.  I’m being given reasons to smile and celebrate every single day. God is good every day and yesterday, just as I was ready to just throw in the towel and be miserable, He answered my prayers and gave me my wish house.  Not my dream house – that dream is not mine to dream anymore. But my wish house is beautiful and I look forward to filling it with love, laughter and lasting security for my children.

I am a very blessed woman.

Palette Cleansing

“You’re just as beautiful as you were the first time I saw you” he said.  “I’ll never forget that day.  You were sitting in the rec center and all I could see was your eyes.  Now over 25 years later, you’re even more beautiful than I remembered and I can still lose myself in your eyes.”

“Thank you” was the only reply I could muster.  Having cried for two weeks straight, my eyes were swollen, bloodshot and brimming with tears.  This man from my past could surely see that I was uncomfortable with his compliments.  This was supposed to be a night of unbridled fun and celebration – a night out with my girlfriend.  Of course I had considered taking a friend’s advise and hooking up with someone to “cleanse my palette.”  The assumption in that planning was that I would be able erase the touch and taste of someone else by exploring that of another.  While I was angry and getting dressed for my night out, for a brief moment I allowed myself to consider this possibility.  But sitting there next to the man who remembered my youthful eyes, I found myself only wanting to go home.  Not “home” as in the house I’ve been living in since I packed my things and left, but my real home – my bed, my kitchen and my family.

My palette cleanser continued his smooth and sensual serenade. “When I last saw you thirteen years ago, it took everything I had to let you leave.  You and I have unfinished business. You smell so good and you’re so sexy.  I can’t say goodbye to you again without getting a chance to finish that business.  I want to be inside of you again.  I want to have your scent on me while I fly back home.”

“Your flight leaves in six hours,  That isn’t a lot of time to finish up the kind of business you’re talking about,” I responded.  “Besides – I’m married and I’m sort of messed up right now.”

He leaned in and whispered in my ear. “I thought you said you were getting divorced.  Besides, you were mine long before you were his and I’m here and he’s not.”  His hand landed on my knee and slowly moved up my inner thigh while his mouth stayed close to my ear and his warm breathe continued to seduce me with promises of phenomenal sex and finished business.  For just a moment, I closed my eyes and let myself listen and respond to him.  “Why not?” I asked myself.  “You’re a grown woman and you’re no longer obligated to remain faithful.  Just exhale and let yourself have a little fun.”

I reached for my glass of water and found it missing…again.  Throughout the evening I had attempted to drink only water so that any decision I made would be a sober one.  Yet my glass of water disappeared each time I took my eyes off of it and in its place I’d find a soda mixed generously with whiskey.  The alcohol burned my throat and gradually numbed my aching heart. The music thumped in my ears and in my chest and I started to feel myself shedding my resolve to remain faithful.  The smell of his expensive Italian cologne, mixed with my wounded pride and my alcohol numbed mind, was a powerful pheromone and I started to feel the instinct to reciprocate and play along in his game of seduction.  “Let’s get out of here,” I whispered.  “Let’s finish our business.”

In a matter of minutes our tab was paid and our goodbyes were said to everyone around us.  I watched as many of his friends eyed me and knowingly smiled and winked at my old friend as they said goodbye for another year.  It was one of the first cold nights of our fall season and the minute we existed the bar, the cold air sobered me and my heart started to beat too quickly.  I felt lightheaded – nauseous and scared.  Was this something I really wanted to do?  If so, would my rationale for giving my body to this man still seem rational in the morning?  If not, how could I extract myself from the course of actions I had initiated with my approval only moments before?  Was I a single woman who was exploring her own sexuality for the right reasons?  Was I a scorned  wife seeking obscured revenge and severance from the man who had hurt me so deeply?

These questions burned through my mind as he opened his car door for me and I waited while he walked around to the driver’s side and opened the door for himself.  In that short span of time I asked myself all of these questions and arrived at only one answer that reconciled with my heart and soul.  My racing mind kept trying to find a rationalization that would validate my taking this step in erasing the memory of my husband but my heart just kept responding “No.”  As my old friend started his car and backed out of the parking space, I asked him to stop.  His face registered disappointment but he stopped and asked if I was okay.  “No, I’m not okay” I responded.  “I am as far away from okay as I’ve ever been and, as much as I would like to go back to your hotel room with you, I can’t.”

He exhaled slowly and I could sense he was considering my sudden change of mind – mentally calculating if he could convince me to change it once again and give him what he was seeking from me.  We sat there silently for a moment with the car half in and half out of the parking space.  Finally he put the car into reverse and continued backing out without saying a word.  “I’m sorry,” I said with my head down.  “I don’t want to be a tease….I am just still in love with my husband and I can’t betray that love, or myself, like this.”  He stopped the car, put it in park and turned in his seat to face me.  When I wouldn’t look up and meet his gaze, he reached over and cupped my chin in his hand, gently lifting my face and my gaze up to meet his own.  “I won’t lie,” he said.  “I’m disappointed.  But I can respect where you are and your honesty.  I’ll take you anywhere you want to go.”

I couldn’t keep the tears from streaming down my face as I replied “Would you like to grab some greasy breakfast at a horrid little truck stop about 20 minutes from here?”  He leaned in and kissed me gently – lingering for a moment in what I knew was a struggle to maintain his own composure.  Finally he replied “Yes.  I would love to have breakfast with you.”  For almost two hours we sat at the truck stop and shared our stories with each other – covering 27 years of personal history in only 120 minutes.  We laughed and we cried as we shared our experiences over our course of young adults to middle aged parents.  I described my years of education and successful career that had ended so suddenly two years ago and I was truly impressed as he told me of his own story of magnificent success and described his lifestyle made possible by that success.

As he was dropping me off at the house I’m staying in temporarily, he asked “Will you come to Chicago and see me sometime? I’ll pay for everything – no obligation.  I just want to continue seeing you and I don’t want to lose touch with you again.  You are someone I’ve never forgotten and I want to be the one that is there when you decide to move forward.”

“We’ll see,” I responded. I took his business card and put it in my purse – wondering if I would ever call the number that would be answered by his personal assistant.  Wondering if I’d allow myself to travel to Chicago to see him and possibly finish our unfinished business. I stepped out of the car and bent down to meet his gaze.  “We’ll see,” I repeated. “No  promises.  I don’t believe in promises anymore.”

I watched as he backed out of the driveway and drove slowly away from me.  I stopped at the trashcan outside and threw his card into the trash.  Maybe someday…maybe.

Choosing Love

I was recently chatting with a friend online about the sudden changes in my life.  This friend has known me for my entire life and he was shocked to hear that I was no longer living in the home at which he last visited me.  “The shock is mutual,” I explained and lamented the sudden demise of something once so perfect…so precious.  “I still love him.  I always will,” I said.  “Everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn’t care…that I should just forget about him and move on. I can’t…I love him deeply and I’m worried about him.  It’s been hard…but I refuse to let my feelings of love turn spiteful.”

“Wow, so rare to talk to an actual grown-up” he responded.  “Why can’t more people be like you? What’s with all the love suddenly flipping over into hate and spite?”

That question is one I’ve often wondered myself in the past and even more so over the past few weeks as the love my husband once felt for me has turned into an angry and hurtful series of accusations and actions that belie and undermine everything we once had together.  Why does love turn to hate so quickly and so easily?  Why, when once loving relationships fall apart, does love so often decay into a burning hatred that breeds only more pain and more hurt?  Why can’t there simply be an enduring respect for what once was even if the union of two hearts and lives is broken?  When the demise of something beautiful creates such chaos and pain in itself, why does love become so easily corrupted into a hatred that seeks to destroy even further?

It’s easier to let yourself hate someone who has hurt you than to hold onto your love for them and allow the memories of your time together remain a cherished chapter in the story of your life.  It’s hard to continue praying for and loving someone who hates you and who actively campaigns against you to anyone who will listen.  But I believe in love and I cling to my faith that love never fails…even while relationships and marriages fall apart.  It’s just not within me to let the love I feel for someone become hate, even when the hurt inside of me demands that I allow the transformation.  Allowing myself to heal requires me to let that love morph into a love for what was and not for what is or what will be. A painful process, but one that can bring about an enduring peace that hate can’t provide.  Hatred brings a numbness that soothes the immediate pain, but it becomes an emotional cancer that will eventually destroy the person who carries it within their heart.

I choose love.  I choose the slower and more painful road to recovery.  I choose love because it’s worth it…and because I’m worth it…because we were worth it.  I choose love – to honor yesterday, to survive today and to carry hope into tomorrow.

Sleepless Nights

My mind is cruel…sinister in its torture and continual taunting.  At night when everyone else is sleeping, I lie awake praying for a peaceful mind.  Praying for a moment  – just one moment  – even the briefest of reprieves from reliving my heartache in excruciating detail and envisioning things so hurtful they’ll startle me upright in my bed and leave me sobbing.  “Please,” I beg God, “please let me stop loving him.  Please help me move on and forget about the things that have been said and done.  Please give me peace.  Please let me sleep.  And if I sleep, please don’t let me dream about him in the arms of another.”

The table beside my bed hosts bottles of medications designed to help me sleep.  Some are over the counter but most are strong prescription medications that should tranquilize even the most manic of minds.  Yet sleep eludes me and I spend my nights praying for sleep and weeping when I awake from yet another 5-minute lapse of consciousness filled with visions that haunt me and fill me with the kind of anguish that should be beyond the human emotional spectrum.  Sleep, such an integral part of recovering and healing, is no longer a part of my daily routine and watching the sun rise through my window each morning has become a haunting reminder that yet another night has passed without my winning the battle over my damaged mind.  When I see the pinks, oranges, and pale blues of the early morning sun, I am relieved for only a moment.  Finally I can acquiesce in my battle to sleep, but I’m faced with the daunting task of facing yet another day of heightened anxiety and constant nausea as I continue to battle my relentless mind with an exhausted body and depleted reserve of emotional strength.

I’m tired…so very very tired.

Thirsty

A month ago today I woke up from a wonderful dream.  In my dream I was living in a home that provided to me the kind of rural beauty that I had longed for since my childhood.  My days were filled with the laughter of children and my bed was warmed by the body of a man I loved with all of my heart.  I had blind faith and trust – never worrying, doubting or seeing the cracks in the logic of the dream that seem so obvious to me now.  My life was euphoric in its perfection and I was satisfied in ways that I felt met my every need. It was a beautiful dream and, like any dream that is disrupted by the reality of consciousness, my waking has left me with only tendrils of fragmented highlights and surreal experiences that cannot be reconciled with my awakened reality.  It was a good dream…but I’m awake now and I can’t go back to sleep and hope to find that dream again.  More importantly, I don’t want to return to that dream.  Perhaps I’m healing or maybe I’m just experiencing a moment of rare peace this morning, but today I’m happy to be awake.  I loved that dream…but it was only a dream.

So what does a woman do when she finds herself frayed around the edges by her life experiences?  Discovers her imperfect self pushed so suddenly and so cruelly out of a dreamy state that was once so comfortable to her?  How does she move forward when she finds out that almost everything in her life that brought her contentment and happiness was only a dream?  What does she do when little pieces of the dream return to her mind and say to her “I was real…long for me” and she is forced to push away the memories in order to survive?

I am that woman.  I am an imperfect soul with an imperfect existence who is thirsty for the kind of peace and happiness that has only felt real while dreaming.  I am a woman who is parched and longing to drink from the fountain of hope and joy.  Having tasted the waters in my dream that promised the kind of life and existence I had once thought impossible for myself, I’m more thirsty than ever before.  I’m crawling through a desert of sorrow, betrayal, confusion and pain…looking for the spring from which I may quench my thirst.  My quest is to find the peace and happiness that I found in my dream but to find it while wide awake and standing on my own two feet.  This was so much easier in the dream – everything came to me so easily, as if by magic.  I don’t have dream magic now…but I have faith and I have love.  And someday I won’t be thirsty anymore.