divorce, gratitude, single parenthood, travel

Love Story

I flew out last Friday morning to Austin, Texas and home again early on Sunday. I’m still recovering from a whirlwind of a weekend spent celebrating the wedding of one of my closest longtime friends. I’ve spent half my week a little delirious from the travel exhaustion and the excitement and the beauty that was all of it.

Traveling mid-semester is no joke. I carried a bag full of student essays with me through airports and airplanes, and I had to work hard to turn off the teacher-brain and the mom-brain living inside of me with that constant voice of rush and guilt and worry. But I managed to quiet those voices for a day or two as I celebrated with some of my oldest friends – some of whom live close or traveled with me and others spread from Texas to New York City.

We celebrated Friday night at the rehearsal dinner and an after party downtown, and then we woke early on Saturday morning and ate breakfast in a a little cafe before stopping by the LBJ Library for a while. Eventually Graffiti Park and Mount Bonnell followed, and the climb up gave us a beautiful view of the Colorado River. Austin is such a unique place, and I already find myself wanting to go back and explore a little more. It was full of so many fun and funky spots.

We walked the few blocks Saturday evening from our hotel to the wedding venue, and I had the best kind of butterflies in my stomach. I’ve seen this friend through something like 18 years of ups and downs and dating questions and heavy moments for the both of us where we thought we knew where the path was going but found soon enough that our assumed outcome wasn’t in the cards for us.

Weddings are almost always beautiful, but this one held its own kind of special for me. A reminder that sometimes the most uncomfortable bumps in the road and the very biggest heartaches are actually exactly what lead us to what is real and true. A reminder never to settle. A reminder that real love is always worth the wait, no matter how long that is for us. A reminder that we never really know where the story ends.

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Weddings can bring all kinds of sticky things for you when you are divorced, that first year or so especially. It’s hard to watch others make promises when you are emerging from the shreds of your own that were left unfulfilled. But this one was easy for me. It felt soft and real and not sharp or sad in the least. Maybe that means I have healed, or maybe that means they are the real deal. Or likely both. Whatever the reason, only love was there.

Krista Tippet writes about her own post-divorce wreckage in her book Becoming Wise. I’ve underlined and noted certain passages in that book and reread them so many times. She echos my own experience; “When my marriage ended, … I became one of the walking wounded in the wreckage of long-term love. After my divorce, I created a welcoming home, took great delight in my children, … invested in far-flung friendships, and drew vast sustenance from webs of care through the work I do. Yet I told myself for years that I had a hole where ‘love’ should be. This is the opposite of a healing story — it’s a story that perceives scarcity in the midst of abundance. … I suddenly realized that the lack of love in my life was not a reality but a poverty of imagination and a carelessly narrow use of an essential word.”

This season of my life has shown me how narrowly I’ve seen that word love. How much bigger it really is from what we perceive it to be. How much it stretches beyond the reach of two individual people and moves far and wide through the circles that make our lives what they are – if we are lucky.

These women are so much to me. Even as a writer, I can’t really describe it in words – which is something I don’t say often. We have seen it all in the past 18 years. They are there through thick and thin. The real thing. I knew it would feel good to see one of our own celebrated like this, but I didn’t expect it to feel this good. I think you know that friendship has reached that magic place when your sadness is truly my sadness, and on the other side, your joy is my joy. It was all joy last weekend, and it felt like such a gift to watch it happen.

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We stole her away for a minute during the reception to step outside for a second and get out of the madness of the crowd. The tears of gratitude wouldn’t stop for me. That joy that hums deep down inside where it is so much fuller when you’ve seen the other end of things. Who knew heartache could make your happy happier? Love is sweeter when you’ve had to wait it out to find it, and love is better when you have friends who see you like a sister. Someone’s husband snuck this picture, and it’s my new favorite thing. I’m the luckiest. 18 years together is something to be grateful for.

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I’ve stopped reading that script that tells me love is somehow less present in my life because I sleep alone. And it’s such a liberating thing to see my life for just a moment from the outside eye – from the camera lens or through the eyes of a friend. I’ve got more love than I can handle, and it overflows sometimes in the very best ways.

I was revisiting some of Laura McKowen’s writings recently, and I stumbled again on her musings on love. She resonates in all the right places for me and reminds me to “keep faith in the larger story….there is a through line that runs deeper and is more benevolent, surprising, and magnificent than you can conceive. … no matter what, do not be mistaken: this is a love story. Your entire life is a love story. It’s just not the kind you think.”

I feel that line running through the undercurrent of my life, and everyday that I get more solid on my own two feet and more grateful, it gets stronger. I don’t know where it’s headed, but it’s taking me with it.

I know there is a more typical love story happening one day in my life, too. The kind with two people and a white dress and all that comes with it. I can’t even explain why I know this except that I just do. The way you know the sky is blue and trees have roots. I can feel it pulling so clearly sometimes in a way that is more real to me than almost anything else in my life.

But I’m waiting it out. And in the meantime, this love story I’m in right now is not the kind I thought it would be, but it is as true as anything ever was for me and anything ever will be. Love is love is love is love.

 

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divorce

the truest pieces

It’s the first day of October, and Georgia somehow finally got the message. I grabbed a sweater and a full cup of coffee as I took the dog out this morning. I felt a real chill. Fall is here. Finally a new season.

I drove a few winding roads to my grandparents’ place today and accompanied my grandad to my grandmother’s grave site to place new flowers for the season. Today would have been their 62nd wedding anniversary.

They were never the types to revel in attention and didn’t want a party or big occasion for their 50th. So twelve years ago, my sister and I orchestrated a secret campaign for letters from family and friends far and wide and put them together in an album for the two of them. It’s at their house still, overflowing with pictures and letters from a life spent together and the world it creates when you love like that. As it turns out, they were a fixed center point, a solid unmovable ground, not just for me but for loads of others, too.

We walked the cemetery a bit with him today and watched him take out flowers that were hardly faded and replace them with new ones. Huddled over the iron vase in the bright fall sunshine on what would have been the beginning of year 63, he carved a bit at the tough foam base of the arrangement and fit it snugly on the metal marker.

He is honest and real and can do hard things. Do men exist like that anymore? I honestly don’t know.

I ran into my former mother-in-law at a soccer game two weeks ago, and she asked me if my grandad was meeting women yet with plans of another wife. I didn’t even know what to say to that. He is in his eighties and spent a lifetime with her. There are tears in his eyes still when he talks about her sometimes, and there’s not yet grass fully on her grave. Is this really how people do it now? They just skip all the hard parts and move on to the next distraction.

I am nearing the two year mark of single motherhood, and people are starting to ask of me (and of course, ask others about me) whether or not I’m seeing someone. There is so much I could say on this topic, volumes I could write, but the short answer is that I’ve changed in a thousand ways in this season of my life, and the bar is set high.

Something happens to you when spend time alone and do things you never thought you could do, when you carry the impossible. I take out the trash. I sleep alone. I pay the bills. I’ve attended real estate closings alone. Parent conferences alone. Soccer games alone with my chair for one. Cub Scout meeting alone with dads everywhere else. And at first it is all terrifying and depressing, but then you break through that initial moment, and it liberates you from everything that tied you before. I’m doing hard things, but I’m okay. What you want in a partner is a list that begins to change with the first passing seasons of your time by yourself, and the bar creeps a little higher each time.

And in the midst of all that, my grandmother got sick, and I watched my grandfather do all of the hardest things. The taking care and the letting go. Never once in those last days did he try to control her pace as she drifted. He just left a sacred space between them for her to do what she needed.

He is 6’2 with clear blue eyes and an uncommon steadiness and more strength and integrity than anyone I’ve ever met. I was there in June when a hospice nurse told us it would likely be less than a week or so until the end, and after the nurse left, I could hear him sobbing in the room where she was laying as I waited downstairs. Never once pushing her to abide by his own plans and always holding steady in the hard work of compassion.

I hear talk shows and see articles passed around online where people talk about marriage tips and what to do when you are struggling in a partnership. I’m realizing that people think marriage is hard these days because you aren’t always happy. Because you feel tired and you work too much and the kids are always demanding something and the other person can’t make all that go away. Is that hard? Really? Because now that I’ve seen what the hard part really is — the grieving and the accepting and the letting go — burnt dinner on the stove or noisy children or a cluttered bathroom counter don’t seem like a cause for unhappiness. Whatever “happy” means anyway; it’s always a moving target when you depend on the other person to provide it.

It’s all connected though, I think. If you can’t do the hard work of putting aside your own selfishness in the earlier years, what do the later years look like? It took 62 years to build what they had, and I understand that. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that maybe the little things are actually the big things. Honesty and integrity start with lending a helping hand and showing respect and saying I’m sorry and meaning it. If I knew then what I know now. But isn’t that always how it goes?

I’m so grateful for every bit of it — my own pain in the earliest days of discovering something that felt like a knife’s edge, the itchy pain of being alone and figuring out what it all meant after the dust settled, and even the hardest pain of watching this season happen in the lives of the couple who was always my fixed center point, and likely always will be.

I’m grateful for the chance to start all over and do it right. And I don’t care how long it takes. The truest pieces of a life well-built always grow slowly.

Books, gratitude, single parenthood

peeling the layers

The house is quiet this morning. I have time to wake-up slowly and drink coffee without leaving an inch of it cold in the bottom of the mug. Workdays without the rush of kids and school buses feel like a luxury.

But I cried yesterday for the first time in a long time, and I am not even certain why I did. Some people believe that crying releases all that stuck energy so that you make room for the new things that are coming to you — new feelings and new experiences. I’ve had such a good few months; 2016 has been exponentially kind to me. But I do feel some restless energy bubbling up to the surface and an itchy desire to make way for the new. Life is like this always, I guess. You peel away the layers to see what is next as you grow and change.

I worked late yesterday, and I opened the door to my quiet house around 7 last night. I tended to the dog for a while, made my dinner for one, took a bath, and settled in with a book. I bought Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet last month after hearing so much about it from a number of different people. It is a series of correspondence between Rilke and a young poet and it’s full of advice on life, art, and creativity. I think I will return to it again and again.

This happens to me all the time. The right words make their way to me on the written page at exactly the moment that they need to be heard. It’s that divine spark of human connection I’ve written about before. Words never cease to amaze me, how when you get them in the right order and they make their way to you at the right time, they can really change you in the smallest but most crucial ways.

As I feel the layers peeling away in my own self, Rilke explains, “Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding and in creating.” I’m also making my way through Rob Bell’s How to Be Here, and it discusses how we are all creators, in a sense. We are all charged with the task of listening to what calls us and creating the life we are meant to lead. I’m starting to see things this way. I see that my writing mirrors my life in that they are both works in progress, and sometimes I don’t gain that conclusion or clarity or insight until I get to the very end of a certain process. I get to the end and sigh, oh, that’s what I’m learning here. That’s what this did for me.

I feel a major shift lately that surprises me when I least expect it, and I’m not certain what it means. But for much of the past two years of my life, I’ve felt no stirring or envy when I see people coupled in pairs. I’ve done the work (so much work) of a relationship that didn’t give back to me in the same weight I put in. I have spent so much of the past year or two of my life completely heart sore and exhausted from that process. But I feel a stir now. I guess it’s a yearning for a partnership, which is a totally normal part of human existence, but it feels so foreign to me. It’s surprising me, and though I should be used to surprising myself by now, I am not.

And maybe this feeling will ebb and flow, maybe it will come and go in the years ahead. Or maybe it will build and pull at me in ways I don’t even understand yet. Maybe I will be in this chapter of solitude for a long time, and maybe I won’t. There are so many questions, and though I try to follow Rilke’s advice to “live the questions,” it is hard. And I am tired sometimes.

This present moment is where the gold is. I know that. The present season, without moving to the right or the left. The present feeling. Paying attention to all those tugs and whispers I feel in my own heart. Paying attention and then letting them go. I know that is the work that gets me somewhere. I know because I can see how far I’ve come by letting that happen in the months behind me. I know all of this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard.

Rilke’s advice in the fourth letter is to “love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you … but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without stepping outside of it … your solitude will be a support and a home for you, even in the midst of very unfamiliar circumstances, and from it you will find all your paths.”  I’m finding my path now in ways I don’t even fully understand yet, and I think this love that is stored for me can come by way of lots of things – not just a romantic partnership as we all seem to hope for. And it already has come for me in many ways I didn’t expect. The whole universe has given back to me twice as much as I ever could have expected. But I think I am just finally at the part of my own journey when I can ponder what if, what if, what if. Maybe one day.

I follow Becky Vollmer on Instagram, and she posted something recently that resonated with me so much.

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I have seen firsthand how genuine self-love brought me out of a place no longer serving me. But for every bend in the road, we have to keep reminding ourselves, don’t we? It’s always the answer. To love yourself out of whatever moment you are in, to peel back the layers, take a look at the softening heart, and make way for the future – whatever it may bring.

It brings both the ugly and the beautiful, if we are paying attention and open to it. I wrote a little essay stringing together some travel reflections over on Sweatpants and Coffee if you want to read it.

For now, I’m moving on with the things that have brought me this far: paying attention, holding space for all of it, and loving it anyway.

single parenthood, Uncategorized

Love Day

Happy Love Day, readers.

So many times in this stretch of the year, I think I will look back and see how far I’ve come.  My “this time last year” reflections are moving from when I was attached to when I was newly single. They are showing how much I’ve changed, no doubt.

Last Valentine’s Day found me at a car dealership trading in what was once the most expensive gift I’ve ever been given but soon became a financial burden I didn’t want anymore. It was also the first time my kids would meet their new step-mom, though my divorce papers were sitting on an attorney’s desk with wet ink.

I can remember flipping the pages of an outdated magazine as I waited on the financing to be approved in the used car dealership, knowing that my kids were out of my control and confused in that moment. I texted a close friend while feeling exhausted and sad, asking when my chance would come – when I would feel some sense of happiness and reward instead of just heartbreak.

I was happy to drive home in my own car, one I’d signed for and chosen myself. But I remember crawling in my big empty bed in the vast house that no longer felt like home, feeling like I might have taken one small step on my own, but it was still a long way from becoming my own life. My future seemed like a distant idea that I couldn’t quite see making shape on the horizon. Something I wanted but didn’t know how to grasp.

Today felt so much stronger, so much better.

Jude picked out a gift for me with my mom recently, but I didn’t know about this at all until he begged me to open it last night – not wanting me to wait until the morning. It was a set of small pots and seeds: parsley, chives, and basil. We planted them this weekend and placed them in the windowsill in the kitchen.

Waiting, watching, knowing something is emerging soon. I feel like this so often in my life lately.

I haven’t given up on love. I am broken and wiser, but I’m not bitter. I know far more about how to judge one’s character. I am not scared to pass on what’s in front of me if it doesn’t feel exactly right or if I think it has had its time and run its course … because I know what’s in my own core. I know much more about my own value.

I ran across an Instagram caption that made me nod today. “I make sure to reflect on how wonderful it feels to live my life on my own terms, and how grateful I am for that time I had sans partnership to figure out what these terms actually meant to me without the influence of someone else. The times we have to ourselves are precious. We have our entire lives to be surrounded by other people in whatever capacity we choose, whether a passing romance or a fleeting fling. .. It’s a liberating feeling when you realize the one constant in your life – yourself – is someone you’ve grown to love more than you thought was possible.”

Jude wished me “Happy Valentime’s Day” at least five times this weekend with his missing front teeth and his excited grin. He made me a picture yesterday that included tiny lettering, drawn as small as he could manage and spelled phonetically, and he handed it to me with a plastic magnifying glass we have. He told me it was a “secret code message” for my eyes only.

I’m grateful for every bit of it – for the time alone, the messages hidden along the way, the space to breathe and experiment and ponder what is next, the love in front of me, and what is yet to be.