Defining Moments or Defining Me?

These days, I am feeling as if I am a bit of a cliché. I was sitting with a new friend the other day when she casually mentioned her observation about how many forty-something divorced women there seemed to be. While the comment was innocently made and had absolutely nothing to do with me, I felt it deep in my bones.

I am a forty-something-year-old divorced woman, and it is an identity that annoys me. I do not want to be known as “the divorced woman.”

But simply because that is a part of who I am, does that have to define me as a whole?

I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering this, and I refuse to allow myself to fall into the trap of accepting that…because I am so much more.

These are just a few pieces of who I’ve been:

  • A girl that grew up in rural North Louisiana
  • A piano player that would get lost in music
  • A teenage band member that loved performing
  • A young college woman trying to figure out who she was
  • A young married woman
  • A new mom
  • An active mom of littles
  • A homeschooling mom
  • A victim of domestic violence
  • A “church lady”
  • A mom of teenagers
  • A woman that cooks and entertains
  • A betrayed woman
  • A divorced woman
  • A mature college student
  • A late forty-something woman beginning a new life
  • A survivor

Not one of those things define the whole of me. Every single one of them is simply a small part that makes up the whole of me.

At this point in my life, these are the only things that won’t ever change:

  • I am a woman.
  • I am a child of God.
  • I am a mother.

I think that sometimes we (maybe just me) get stuck in accepting one definition of ourselves, and we forget that who we are ebbs and flows with our personalities and our life experiences. It can be difficult to recognize that we are more than our circumstances.

But it is possible.

Transitions & Mistakes Along the Way

Transition periods are on my mind.

As I was speaking with someone the other day, I could hear the exasperation in their voice with me. They are tired of me struggling. They are annoyed with me for continuing on a path that they think is wrong. And while they did not directly say that they were annoyed, they did clearly state that they believe I am wrong for doing what I am doing.

Here is the truth about my life. I am struggling. And the path that I have chosen is a bit more difficult than some other path. But it is my path, and I made the decision to go on it. Once I started in this direction, I have never looked back. This decision is mine. I can honestly say that it is the first decision that I have EVER made on my own without changing directions to make someone else more comfortable.

And although it is a hard path, that is all that it is. It is hard.

It is ridiculous that I am 48-years-old and am just now beginning to make my own decisions. Honestly, it feels completely awkward and uncomfortable.

The thing about transition periods is that sometimes they are quick and can be over in a matter of days, but sometimes it takes a few years to transition into a new way of living. The speed of a person’s transition is not something that can accurately be compared.

I’ve become a part of a group of single parents, and one major thing that I have noticed is that it has taken most of the people in this group (especially those who take the time to heal) somewhere between 5-8 years to settle in to their lives after divorce.

So whenever I hear someone begin to sabotage my efforts, I have to consciously step back and recognize that they are the ones uncomfortable with my life. And that maybe I should not be sharing with them some of my questions or hiccups…because a hiccup is how I see most obstacles. Yes, sometimes I cry. And yes, sometimes I get scared.

But the one thing I never lose sight of is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”…there may be twists and turns, and I may make a few (or a lot) of mistakes, but that’s okay.

I’m learning that mistakes do not mean that I have to stop moving forward.

They mean that I simply need to readjust the process.

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Handicapped Hospitality

So I’ve almost always been a hospitality person…inviting people over, cooking for them, relaxing with them…it has always been my “thing.” I love it!!

Almost from the moment I left my parents’ home, I loved it. I remember running to the video store, renting a VCR and a movie, cooking and inviting people into the very old, trailer house that I lived in. I considered having people over the best part of life. That continued everywhere I have lived…until my divorce.

My life was upended by divorce. I moved from my home. I had to deal with all of the emotions of all the times I entertained for and with my ex-husband (for those of you who remember ‘What is Emotional Abuse Anyway,’ I had to work through the fact that entertaining was a way for me to “hide in plain sight”). I had to figure out how to live life again. Plus covid hit a year later, just as I felt that I was getting a bit stable.

And, to be honest, entertaining feels awkward without a spouse.

But, oh my gosh, do I miss it! I miss the joy of planning a meal…an afternoon or evening filled with people. I miss laying out all of the serving pieces and writing on sticky notes to make sure I have a dish that enhances the beauty of every single item I will make. It is truly one of my absolute favorite things to do.

Unfortunately, I feel sort-of handicapped now. I’m not sure if it has to do with being divorced or if it has something to do with the pandemic. All that I know is that if feels as if I am struggling to figure out how to do this again.

Women, I love you, but I don’t want to have women-only lunches. I miss the interaction of adults…men and women laughing and enjoying one another’s company. But everything feels weird and awkward.

So how do I do what I love and learn to be hospitable again? I honestly have no earthly idea.

But I know that I have to figure it out. Hospitality (or love, welcome, serve as Amy Hannon says it), is simply who I am.

I heard someone say that “brave, difficult, awkward hospitality” is how we meet people right where they are. It’s not the beautiful platters and place settings, but it’s whatever we have on hand that welcomes people to have a place in our lives.

So I am challenging myself to have at least one “brave, difficult, awkward” moment each month until it feels natural again.

I’m not giving up on this…I love the whole process of it too much to let it slip away forever!

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How did I forget?

I met with my counselor last week for the first time in about 9 months. As we were talking, she does her magic and asks a few questions…

(I’m going to stop here for a minute. I have literally just finished a grad school class on cognitive behavioral interventions. My entire final was a live “practice” combining and using questions to help a person see where they can make changes. I made a perfect score. I literally just learned questioning skills. Insert eyeroll.)

Continuing on…as I sit in her office, it occurs to me that I already knew how to manage what had spiraled out of control in my own life. My mind is reeling with the thought, “Are you kidding me?” I had slipped into behaviors without even a conscious thought about how much stress they were causing me!

The process of awareness and using tools to function in emotionally healthy ways simply need to be rebooted sometimes.

I’m going to be honest. On my way home from her office, I was annoyed that I had forgotten that I had choices. I was living in my past reactions within the abuse cycle, and I had totally allowed myself to slip into old habits.

As I have pondered it since then, I have chosen to embrace the fact that I slipped into old patterns. It happens, and I wasn’t paying that much attention. I have just been “getting through” each day.

The difference now is that I know what to do. I know where to look for help if I need it.

But here’s the thing.

I accidentally isolated myself. It wasn’t intentional. It really did just happen.

FYI-isolation is my thing. I am really, really good at it. It’s how I survived in years past.

We absolutely cannot isolate if we are to live meaningful lives!!

Period.

Yes, we get busy. Yes, it has been hard because of the pandemic. Yes, we are busy with work, kids, classes, church…whatever the things are that fill your time.

But we need people to connect with. People to keep us in the present. People to bring us out of our headspace.

(And if you know me, you know how stuck I can get in my mind. I a bit of a weird-o about that. I can also get stuck trying to disappear into reading. And sometimes, I can even get stuck just sitting in my living room doing nothing…it is kind of ridiculous.)

So here’s the deal. I’ve been moving forward, step by step, since the day I found out my ex-husband was gay. Sometimes we get stuck in old patterns of behaviors. Except now, once the a-ha moment comes, I know what to do to get unstuck.

Moving forward isn’t about never looking back and never having another problem.

It’s all about the a-ha moments. They should totally give us a boost of confidence that we are awesome at this moving forward thing. We know how to get ourselves out of stuff. And even if we don’t remember, we probably know where we can go to get a little help!

Keep going. We’ve got this.

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Pondering…Am I Guilty?

Am I guilty of parental alienation?

I honestly do not know. This is something that I have been afraid of being blamed for ever since the divorce occurred. In fact, it is something that sometimes keeps me awake at night. My thoughts wonder how much I contributed to the negative feelings my children have toward their father.

Three out of my four children live with me. (The fourth lives on his own.) The three that live with me have observed the overwhelming nature of my divorce. It was impossible to protect them from it.

For the first little bit during and after the divorce, I regularly told my children that their father loved them to the best of his ability. Honestly, he wasn’t the nicest guy to live with, and during the divorce he became vindictive directly to them. But he is their father…

All three of them accused me of trying to force them into a relationship with him. All three of them said that I was trying to manipulate them.

So I stopped.

But am I guilty of this thing called parental alienation? Did I promote their feelings of anger directed toward their dad? Was there anything that I could have done to encourage them more?

There’s this: I only found out about my ex-husband’s attraction to men because my daughter told me. In the beginning, I attempted counseling, and I encouraged my children to see that I was trying to be open-minded.

And there’s this: My 2nd son and my daughter told me that if I stayed with their dad, I would not have a relationship with them. That they would make an effort to see me occasionally, but they would never again enter our home freely.

And then there’s this: My 4th child, from a very early age, disliked his father. I never understood it and often attempted to force a relationship. The only way he would spend time with his dad is if he was bribed.

Not to mention this: My ex-husband moved over 1000 miles away.

I was devastated by my ex-husband’s hidden life, and as my eyes opened to why our lives were the way they were, I realized what awful things he had intentionally done to keep his secret. (Some of them are still beyond my comprehension.) Did I share too much of that? Maybe. I don’t know how I could have kept it a secret. Their friends were telling them things, and they came to me with questions. I didn’t want to lie to my kids.

Regardless of all of that, am I guilty of alienating their dad? Did I overly encourage my children to dislike him?

My studies in social work tell me that this is a problem with some divorce cases, and I do not want this to be the story of my children. I want them to know that even if I cannot look their father in the eye or have a face-to-face conversation with him, they are more than welcome to have that. They won’t be hurting me. (FYI-that is a total lie…it will hurt me if they seek out a relationship with him. But I can keep that tucked inside of me to share with a friend instead of my feelings affecting them…(laugh out loud) is that even possible? They do live with me, and they are no longer young children. They can see through any attempt I make to “fake it.”)

How does a person navigate this? How do I prevent this from happening? I know that the emotional turmoil of walking out this devastating path has affected my children, but have I alienated them from their father?

What could I have done differently? What can I do differently?

Today, I continue to ponder if I am guilty. Part of me thinks no way, I would never do that. Another part of me thinks that it is impossible for me to have not negatively influenced them.

I will have to settle with this thought: I have done the best that I could in my situation.

I just pray that sinks into my soul one day soon.

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Something New

Here it is. The beginning of 2021…I am so glad 2020 has ended!

I am grateful for 2020. I have learned so much this last year, and as odd as the year was, I am appreciative of the insight it has given me.

As 2020 ended, I worked through an inventory of my life. What went well this year? What went wrong? What did I grieve? What brought me joy? What can I learn, and how can I grow from all of it?!

2020 was HARD. Not nearly as emotionally hard as the previous two years, but hard for different reasons. I have learned that I am a person who seriously likes to ignore things…I am an avoider. Let me clarify. If I have to deal with something uncomfortable, I will do it (eventually), but I will tiptoe around the issue as long as I possibly can.

I realized that I need to change the way I live. It isn’t healthy. Not physically, emotionally, or spiritually. This is where I want to blame others, which would be an easy out, but it would not be the truth.

It’s time to embrace my life as a single adult woman with children. I need to stop putting my kids first…3 of them are adults. They need my encouragement, but they are perfectly capable of stepping into their own lives. As for my 16-year-old, it’s time to begin empowering him toward independence.

Now that I realize all of this, how do I make the necessary change?

These two verses have been rattling in my mind for the last few weeks. As the end of the year has come and gone, I’ve decided to cling to them for this next year: Isaiah 43:18-19 CSB “Do not remember the past events; pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.”

Faith and hope. Fully embrace the future. Keep my eyes looking forward, and allow the past to remain behind me.

Although I have continued to progress forward, I have also felt tethered to the past…to Code Red, to the abuse, and to the horrors of what was. It is time to let all of that go.

It means that I am ready to come to peace with what was. It is part of my story, but it is no longer going to hold me captive.

So here I am, in 2021, feeling as if I am sitting on a hill, looking to see what God is going to do next?

Happy New Year, everyone!

Biggest Blessing=Biggest Regret

My biggest blessing is also my biggest regret.

The inner conflict of my life these days leaves me in a near-constant state of frustration. It has now been two years since I moved from my home. As messy as that home was, there was financial security there. Two years out, and I am feeling both elated and terrified every single day.

The biggest blessing of my life has been that I was able to stay at home with my children. There were moments when it was too much, but overall, I genuinely love/d being an active mom in their lives.

The biggest regret of my life has been that I did not establish a career. I often wanted one, but I could not figure out how to balance that as an involved mom with a spouse that was gone as much or more than he was at home.

I actually remember thinking that after we moved to Alabama, I would be able to go back to school and further my education. And then we moved to Virginia. I didn’t give up hope; I looked at classes and made plans to go back to school. And then we moved to Arkansas. That first year, I clung to my hope…if I could go back before I turned 35, it wouldn’t be too late. But I began homeschooling and had another baby, and before long we moved to Texas. My hopes shifted. Maybe after the kids began moving away, I would just take a few classes? Not for a full degree but something just for me.

And then my world cracked open. Sometimes I see that crack as bad (like falling into an abyss), and sometimes I see that crack as good (my eyes and my world being opened up).

Right now, my world is wide open, but I am also scared out of my mind. I am in graduate school doing what I love, but I had hoped to have full-time employment to balance out my expenses. I never dreamed how difficult it would be to find a decent job. Nor did I ever consider that the father of my children wouldn’t be helping them out with college expenses.

I currently feel frustrated and embarrassed. I am ashamed that I cannot find a job. What is wrong with me? Even the career counselor at the university said that I had a pretty good resume’ considering how many years I stayed at home…

Oh, I know nothing is wrong with me. I also know that we are in the middle of a pandemic. But I am discouraged and annoyed that I did not begin my career path before the age of 47.

It is frustrating and lonely to live with this deep, personal conflict in a season fraught with so much external conflict. Heaven knows that I don’t want to talk about it anymore. To outside people, it’s beginning to look as if I am not even searching. Each application, cover letter, and resume’ needs filling out, written, and tweaked, and that takes roughly an hour or two for every single one of them. They are mentally exhausting, and sometimes I apply to so many in a day that I live in fear that I have attached the wrong cover letter to an application.

All of this makes me want to dwell in a state of regret…but how can I possibly regret my life?! I made cookies and birthday cakes, went to parks, read books, had parties, and put my children to bed every night. I LOVE being a mom.

How is it possible that my biggest regret can also be the most wonderful blessing I have ever received?

Wobbly. Stumbly. Steps.

It is awful to feel like a young-adult-starting-out when you are an older-adult-with-almost-grown-children. I am 47-years-old and attempting to begin a career that has to provide me with enough income to prepare for retirement while at the same time, immediately provide for the kids and me.

To be honest, I fully realize that I lived a pretty privileged life. Just over two years ago, I had a big house with a pool, cars, a boat, not to mention a pretty fluffy monthly budget. We had investments, retirement, and a bit of savings.

When I made the decision to divorce, we had already willingly depleted most of our investments, retirement and savings. In the months prior to filing, I had chosen to stand beside the man I believed in through the end of a tumultuous season with his last employer, including a major lawsuit. (By the way, it has now been 2-1/2 years since that lawsuit began, and it is still in process!)

I can do without “things;” I’m not so high maintenance as that. The issue for me is that I have a difficult time not being able to support my kids in the manner I had thought would happen. As 2 of them transition to adulthood, I currently provide them with housing, food and basic necessities. They are working, accepting grants and getting loans to go to school. I am in school. My youngest is still in high school.

Life is so incredibly different!

Above were my thoughts BEFORE Covid-19

After/During Covid-19…

I am in the process of transitioning from full-time student to part-time student as I also search for full-time employment. I haven’t worked a regular, 40-hour-a-week job in 24 years. And I have NEVER had to financially support myself!

I want to climb in bed and quit…not really, but…sort-of. With each new twist or turn in this journey forward, I have to consciously refocus and remember God’s wisdom:

“Let your eyes look directly ahead, and let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you. Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established. Do not turn to the right nor to the left; turn your foot from evil.” Proverbs 4:25-27 (NASB)

Keep looking ahead. Don’t look down. Don’t look to the side. Definitely don’t look back.

Look forward. Take a step. Just one step forward makes a difference.

Wobbly. Stumbly. Steps.

That’s all that is required.

I can do this.

Joy in the Still

It is April 26, 6 weeks since I fully realized that coronavirus was coming into the U.S. like a storm. I am weary. Weary of staying inside. Weary of the same walk around the neighborhood. Weary of trying to make my brain think critically. Weary of listening to conspiracy theories. Weary of the constant accusations and bickering on social media. (Speaking on that: Yesterday, I chose to “hide” everyone who posts sarcastic, harsh, or aggressive posts…that applied to both my Republican and my Democrat friends. It meant hiding many people that I love.)

Anyway. This period of social distancing has given me hours/days of great productivity and hours/days of ridiculous laziness. Writing about it seems a waste of time. I do not have great knowledge to share. I am simply a mom and a student. That is all.

Now that everything is still, what do I do?

Embrace the still. Allow it to wrap around you without consuming you. Search for the joy. Find it. Cling to it.

My joy has been found – in opening the blinds every morning. – in gardening. – in cooking. – in listening to my children. – in reading. – in studying. – in ironing. – in sewing. – NOT in playing games. – in puzzles. – in pets. – in Scripture. – in people all over the world sharing their “view from my window.”

Joy can be anywhere at any time; it doesn’t have to be big. All we have to do is open our eyes to see it.

What do I even say right now?

I’ve written and deleted at least 2 posts since this (coronavirus) began…where do I even start? Do I ramble on about how I have attempted to complete my assignments, but I work best in silence, and silence is no longer an option…except at midnight, and I am not a night person? Do I write about how my 16-year-old son woke up to 20 (yes, 20) emails yesterday morning from his teachers and completely shut down? Do I admit that I am stressed because I was in the middle of transitioning to something new, and because of the lockdown, the details are falling through the cracks? Do I write that the only way I feel as if I have any control is to menu plan? Do I tell that my oldest son is underway, and they did not test them before heading out?

Honestly. I do not know what I am supposed to say.

Whenever I write, I want to share the reality of life, but also that there is beauty and hope to be found when you just look for it. Right now, I would love to continue writing outside in the early morning with the birds chirping, but the damn mosquitos feel as if they are eating me alive. Not to mention, one of my neighbors is going for a walk with a mask on (no big deal) and a gun holstered to her waistband (BIG deal). For all of the encouragement that I see from so many, I feel as if I am in the twilight zone.

And yet, there continues to be beauty. My professor kindly gave me an extension on this paper that I have no attention span for. My refrigerator and pantry are full; I do not need anything. My son forced himself to go for a bike ride to help clear his mind so that he could decompress for a bit. I have an advisor working on my behalf to assist me during this transition…I choose to trust that even if it does not turn out as I had planned, it will be okay. I read the emails from my oldest son’s ombudsman to give me encouragement regarding his safety. My home is a place of comfort and beauty. Cooking is a creative outlet for me…I choose to embrace the additional time I have to put our meals together.

I cannot keep from mentioning that during this particular crisis, for the first time in my adult life, my attention is not centered around 1 person. His damaging and demanding needs are not wreaking additional havoc on our home. I am not forced to think long and hard about how to find something positive to say. I no longer have to work to find the good in my life. The good overshadows the not-so-good. In our home now, the children and I work together as a team, supporting and encouraging one another. Yes, there is stress and tension; however, there is also understanding and kindness.

My home has a different feel than it had in the past. It does my soul well to acknowledge and remember it often. This season could be one filled with drama and demands, but we have been rescued from that extremely toxic environment. For that, I am exceedingly grateful.

I guess what I have to say is we can do this. We can do hard things. But I’m not going to lie…it’s easier to go through hard times when you aren’t living in constant stress. My hope is that the memories of extreme anxiety and tension do not disappear, but that they serve only as a reminder to cherish the peacefulness (even during a pandemic) in my life right now.