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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.

To Date…or Not

The question of dating keeps coming up. Have you started dating yet? What do you think about dating? Why aren’t you dating? Hasn’t it been long enough? Don’t you need to practice so that you will be able to recognize healthy and unhealthy patterns?

First and foremost, dating will begin in my own time. No one gets to decide that but me.

Have I thought about it? Yes. Is there a part of me that desires it? Yes. How do I feel about it? Terrified. Am I about to begin? No.

There are so many emotions tied up into the idea of dating. For someone like me, who has been accustomed to putting all personal desires aside for the “greater good” of the family, the idea of dating is a non-issue. In my mind, I am in school full-time, I’m not financially sound, and I am simply too busy to be distracted by dating. I also have 3 children at home, 2 young adults that are working to find their footing and 1 high schooler that just now seems settled. Do I really want to add another emotional pull on myself?

And then there are all of the insecurities. I wasn’t good enough for one man; how will I be good enough for another? Apparently, I am intimidating. What can I do about that? I am straight up terrified of trusting another man. We can talk, but I don’t know how I will ever trust someone. And here is the BIGGIE: I am overweight; therefore, I shouldn’t put myself out there. Yes. I’m going there. And yes. I am totally using that as an excuse.

In reality my weight is probably the single most important factor that stops me in my tracks from pursuing a future relationship.

Could I lose weight and go for it? Yes. Do I want to? Yes, I’m tired of being overweight. And no, I do not want to draw attention to myself. My weight has been an incredible protector for me these past 4-1/2 years. It has pushed Code Red away from me, saving me from his attention (he thought overweight people were disgusting…plus it gave him the “out” to pursue his true desires).

But it’s also a “thing” for me. It has been for 27 years now. Just a few months after our wedding, I knew that weight was going to be an issue. The first time he said something about it to me, we had been married a couple of months and as I was getting ready to leave, he told me that my dress made my bottom “look huge.” It hurt my feelings, but I decided that he was trying to save me from embarrassment. After having babies, he told me that I looked ok from the side but from the front or back, not so good…I was very wide. Yikes! Who wants to hear that?! Especially after 4 babies and working hard to become fit! And finally, when I allowed my weight to topple to its heaviest, I became a “lazy, fat, slob.” Yes, he really said that. More than once. And yes, I was devastated. It is safe to say that my weight has kept me isolated…and protected.

Here’s the flip side, or the protection part of this whole thing. Before I gained to my heaviest (even when he thought that I didn’t look ok) other people seemed to think I was just fine, maybe even attractive? When we went places, I was left alone…to do what I considered my job…making people feel seen; therefore, making Code Red look good. **As I type this, I wonder if I am exaggerating a bit? Surely, that was not really the way things were, was it?** It certainly felt that way. On every single occasion, I felt abandoned. In most instances I didn’t know anyone; and yet, I was left to mingle, smile, and nod…alone. And I hated it. Once I gained the weight, he stopped asking me to go to these dinners and events. I was left at home and no longer felt as if I had to “perform.”

So maybe there is a bit more to the whole not wanting to date thing…maybe, I don’t want to be taken advantage of again. Maybe I don’t want to have to figure out if I can trust someone or not. Maybe I don’t want to feel unattractive and not good enough. Maybe I feel as if I really am a lazy, fat, slob. Maybe being overweight is the best deterrent on the the planet…and the best excuse to not have to say the word no.

Whatever it is, I’ll figure it out in my own time. Piece by piece, my heart and soul keep healing. This is just another one of those pieces.

And as for dating, I’ll figure that out, too…in my own time.

Ruminating on “D is for Divorce”

One year ago today, my divorce was final. A few weeks later, I posted this. In it, I posed 4 questions for myself to work out:

1 – Does divorce have to define me? Yes. Yes, it does define me…a part of me. I have spent the majority of my adult life married to an abusive and unfaithful man. That has shaped me in ways that I am not sure that I even understand. The process of leaving gave me many defining moments, as well as the classification of being a divorced woman. But that is only a part of who I am; I no longer see that as the ONLY part of me that others see. I am so much more than that.

2 – What am I going to do about these hidden places in my heart? Last year I wrote, “The yucky part of coming face to face with reality is that I now recognize that I have hidden places of my heart where I have held people and ideas higher than God’s word.” Today, I write to say that I no longer even have very many people in my life. My life has gone from being full of people and activity to being mostly alone and relatively isolated. Most of the things/people that I held dear have disappeared; only a few remain. It has changed my perspective, and I spend a great deal of time being introspective and “cleaning up” those places. While I wrestle with God’s Word on some things, there aren’t any people or things, other than my own self, in place to hold higher than his word.

3 – Do I want to hold onto the horrifying past, or do I want to use it as a springboard for the future? This one’s pretty obvious…I have definitely springboarded into something that I never saw coming! My past is my past. It has taught me a ton about trusting others, as well as trusting myself. It does not continue to hold onto me. My history is only a part of the story that shaped who I am today. I see it as a growing into my true self, not who I was when I was a wife, struggling to maintain appearances, attempting to find joy, and hoping to keep the underlying anger regarding my situation in check. I am a woman who knows her mind, who is aware of her passions and is not too afraid to keep moving ahead.

4 – What do I want my story to be? “**Funny Fact: My very first thought/prayer after finding out and confronting Code Red about his secret life was, ‘PLEASE GOD, don’t let this be my story. And even if it does end up being my story, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t ask me to use it.’” My story…this story that makes people gasp and feel sorry for me…has lost its hold on me. I have chosen to tell my story as it is time and time again. It is one filled with heartache and humiliation, but also one filled with hope and redemption. My story isn’t over; it is merely beginning a new chapter. And oddly enough, now I want others to hear it. I want them to learn from it. I want them to know that I might look like a fluffy suburban mom, but I am a woman who understands betrayal. I am a woman who understands abuse. I am a woman who knows the difficulties of navigating neglect and heartache from the church because a woman’s story can be too much. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am strong. I am beautiful. I am intelligent. And most importantly, I am a child of God.

I know I am loved. (What a difference a year makes!)