grief, single parenthood

fire and ashes

I graded my last few final exams today and submitted my end-of-semester details to the registrar. I have a few summary tasks here and there, but it is a full four weeks until I have to tend to daily thoughts of grading and planning and prepping for class. I have lots of big hopes to complete neglected house tasks and do fun things with the kids – but mostly I just want to exhale from the mess that was 2016.

Perspective changes everything, and I am working hard to remind myself of that. There were some crazy moments and dismal details about my past year but also other things that were brighter than what I could have ever imagined and so far beyond my predictions.

There are things that have taken shape in my life this year that, simply put, I just didn’t feel ready for yet. Big things like time alone and my grandmother’s passing and less monumental things like a house renovation I didn’t ask for and publications I didn’t expect to come along. Sometimes you just want to put in an order to God to tell him to hold on a minute. I can do that later, but I am not ready. Not yet.

But we are never totally ready, I guess. Not for anything worthwhile. I know this to be true when I look back on the steps of my life that have brought me the most joy and delivered the greatest promise. The best details are always the ones I didn’t feel ready for. Life is all improv, isn’t it? I think that’s the thing none of us like to admit. We are all doing the best we can with any given set of challenges, and that is why, I’m realizing, it is so important to know yourself in a true and solid sense. Know your own limits and boundaries and priorities rather than checking things off some outside list and measuring yourself in someone else’s view. We make these decisions all the time, and one tiny turn leads to another, and you find yourself living in a reality you never could have predicted. When you make those decisions from a space of solid understanding and refined priorities, the results unfold beautifully. But when you make those decisions from a place of shaky ground or reflected sense of self, you will look around soon enough to wonder why your life feels so itchy and wrong. I thought 2015’s job was to get rid of all the itchy pieces, but as it turns out, 2016 kept doing that too. Refining, refining, refining all the time. Leaving only what is real.

Our little elf “brought” a board game from the North Pole today. (It helps to spread out the gifts with a couple of Advent surprises, I’ve found.) And we played a few rounds of Life Junior tonight after dinner dishes were put away and bath time was over. It’s the latest incarnation of the Life game I can remember playing growing up. This version has fun stops on the board like ice cream parlors and picnics and days at the beach. But the one I used to play had you check life milestones off the list. Remember that? Pass the university and collect your degree, get a job, pass the chapel and place a spouse in your tiny plastic car and ride off to get a mortgage and a baby with the next dial of the spinner.

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It’s what we’re told. Check the boxes and things will be perfect. But it doesn’t really work that way.

Here I am, two years out. And I am so grateful mine all burned down. I don’t see the same game board at all anymore. I see one with windy twists and turns and unforeseen corners, but not a specified beginning and end. And what a relief it is to see life like that, how it is meant to be. Poet David Whyte has a line I love that explains, “Sometimes with the bones of the black sticks left when the fire has gone out, someone has written something new in the ashes of your life.” How incredible it is when all we feel is fire and all we see is ashes, but then you find that the bones are left and they are writing something new.

I’m feeling the new emerge here at the end of what was once again a year of pain and grief and joy and transformation and space and air and warmth and darkness and light. All those nights of thinking I’m not ready yet have finally left room for the echo that tells me I’m ready for whatever is next. Open and able and willing for the next pieces to fall where they are meant to be.

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divorce, Life and Randomness

increments

Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.

We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.

UntitledLittle gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.

November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.

I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.

I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.

And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.

I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.

gratitude, Life and Randomness

affirmation

As an English teacher, I know that words have power. I know that for certain. I see it everyday as what I read speaks to me like nothing else can, and I see it when I teach students to grow in their use of language and then watch them acquire power and personal agency as a result.

But I wasn’t really one for meditative affirmations in my former life. Was I too busy to think about it? Or didn’t think I needed anything to change or improve tremendously? Or I didn’t think they’d likely work for me anyhow? Probably all of those things. But these days, I am really seeing the power of words and thoughts in my own life, and I’m making them part of my everyday routine.

I purchased this set of cards from Your Joyologist a while ago, and it contains 52 encouraging affirmations. It sits on my bathroom sink, and I pick up one before bed at night and repeat it in my mind as I fall asleep. I wake to choose another one and repeat it to myself as I shower and get ready for the day.  I grab them at random and assume that they each have a message for me that I’m intended to hear on that given day. So far, this has turned out to be the case more often than not.

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Maybe I am a nutcase and a total hippie-crunchy-kale-eating-yoga-doing-affirmation-reading weirdo, but these work. They really do. The mind is a powerful thing, and I am seeing more and more that I can change the world around me in the truest sense when the thoughts in my mind change. Some would argue that this is stupid and I’m just imagining positivity because of the way my mind assesses my world after reading these thoughts… and to you I say, maybe so. But it’s working for me, and the good in my life just keeps growing when I tell myself it is there for the taking.

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When I remind myself that I need to release what doesn’t serve me any longer (anger, resentment, self-doubt, judgment, fear) and make room for the good stuff, the good stuff appears.  When I remind myself that there is a greater plan at work, I begin to see it unfold.

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When I remind myself that I am enough as I am and I choose to love myself without the burden of demanding that I change to suit others’ desires and expectations, I feel more complete and stronger than before and others begin to see me as enough, too. (Or maybe I’m just empowered to shed anyone who doesn’t recognize my worth from my life. Either way, it begins with my assertion that I am worthy as I am.)

These cards get me started each day, but I also have a few mantras that I repeat when necessary and keep in my back pocket like a tool kit. I am safe. gets me through sticky situations with anxiety. I am enough. I am loved. gets me through moments of self-doubt. I am allowed. I am deserving. are reminders to me that good things can come my way, and it doesn’t mean the other shoe is about to drop. (Anyone else have that weird fear with joy and happiness? Like it’s too good to be true?) It’s hard to swallow the joy with simple gratitude and not look for the black cloud. I’m finally realizing that this way of thinking is rooted in a belief that I can’t possibly enjoy good things fully because I don’t deserve them. It’s like a big board game with a point system, and I haven’t done enough good things yet – haven’t acquired enough points in the game of life – to receive happiness without some kind of caveat. This has been a light bulb moment for me recently as I realize this. Joy is such a vulnerable feeling sometimes.

At the risk of losing any credibility I might have with any of you skeptical readers, energy is a real thing. We project certain messages out to the world, and we receive what we think we deserve. I’m seeing this without a doubt in my current life as I watch particular people and situations find their way to me.  The sense of community I’ve watched unfold for the kids and me (as I wrote about in my last post) is a result of my desire to build my own life, and more than that, my belief that I am loved and valued by others despite a year prior to this that left me with many moments screaming just the opposite.

It’s the power of intention. And it’s becoming clear to me that what you intend is what you become. I’m beginning to see the power of having true intention in my life, in all my choices – big and small. It’s so tempting to do what you have always done, be what you have always been. It’s so tempting to act impulsively and resist the urge to think or pause or reflect. But the pause is where it’s at. It’s where the change happens. And as terrible as it felt to “start over” earlier this year, I’m seeing it emerge as a gift. I can carry on with intention and purpose and be whoever I feel I need to be, go where I feel led to go. I’m not weighed down with another’s expectations or opinions or doubts of me. Right now, I’m not sure where that destination is, but I know it’s somewhere good, and I know that intention is the only way to get me there. Autopilot never works for big steps in the journey.

 

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I’ve had a few people comment here and there – either blog readers or friends in my usual life offline – who have complimented me for staying afloat with optimism and believing that better days are ahead. I do realize that so many people spend the first few years after a divorce flailing and confused and sometimes making some self-destructive and impulsive choices. And really the only thing responsible for my refusal to fall in that pattern is intention and a relentless determination to, as it says in the quote above, bring my blessings on myself and find them in the world around me. It’s my stubbornness really. When I attended the workshop with Jen Pastiloff in August, we talked a bit about the less “fluffy” definition of manifestation. And that is to “make shit happen” in Pastiloff’s words.

Sometimes the world throws a lot of sad and scary stuff your way, and you have to change the landscape. It’s not easy though. Nothing in your life will change unless you change your daily habits and empty yourself of everything you were before and then fill it back up in the way you want. When you go looking for happiness outside of yourself, or even worse in the exact place you lost it before, you will never find the real deal. Joan Didion says, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” And I’m starting to get that feeling, too. With intention and purpose, everything about your world can change. I’m finally feeling incredibly lucky that my world exploded and gave me this beautiful season of in-between where I have no framework constricting me.

You have to work really hard to find the happy. But when you say it enough, you begin to believe it. And when you truly believe it, life begins to hand you some pretty amazing gifts.