Category Archives: lessons learned

What is There to Celebrate?

The first holiday season after a loss can be especially difficult – whether it’s the loss of a loved one or the loss of a marriage. I remember the first Thanksgiving after my dad died. My mom and I were celebrating Thanksgiving with my sister in another state. After Thanksgiving Mass, we all three just stood there and cried because we missed my dad so much.

It’s so easy to fall into a funk during the holidays – sadness, anger, depression, and bitterness. Cycle Dude said his deceased wife is the one who made the holidays joyful for him and his children. There just doesn’t seem to be any spark in his holidays. I am determined to change that this year (since I am living in his house, too).

I decorated his house for fall because it’s my favorite time of the year and I always decorated my home for fall. I have tons of Christmas decorations that I will set out as well. I have discovered that there is something to celebrate after my divorce – peace, stability and joy. Those things were dreadfully lacking in my marriage. I celebrate a life of gratitude – for Cycle Dude, my children and soon-to-arrive granddaughter, my pups, my friends, etc.

My life is not perfect – whose is? Yet, there is so much in my life to celebrate. There is so much to be grateful for. If this is your first holiday season after your divorce, it doesn’t have to be depressing. Take time for yourself – what do you like to do? Go out for ice skating and hot chocolate with a friend. Volunteer at your local homeless mission. Bake cookies with your adult children, or for your neighbors or the children at church.

But most of all, have a grateful heart. There is always something to be thankful for. What is there to celebrate? Life! Take the time this holiday season to enjoy life. Stay tuned. . . .

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Holiday Grace

The holidays were always a crazy, chaotic time for me growing up. I am one of six children, so we always had a crowd at the dinner table. I remember going to visit my grandparents in Chicago. My mom’s parents and my dad’s parents didn’t live that far away from one another, so we had to visit both sets of grandparents.

My mom’s parents had this wonderful, magic expanding kitchen table. It was a little round thing that somehow expanded to ten times its size in order to accommodate all the relatives that were there for the holiday. My grandma, mom and aunt would be in the kitchen the day before the holiday and all day the day of the holiday, baking, cooking, tasting, basting, etc. Grandma’s house smelled sooo good! I have wonderful memories of the holidays from when I was a child (except the Christmas when I learned there was no Santa – but that’s another topic for another time).

I often tried to duplicate the same holiday traditions, smells, etc. so my children could experience the wonderful holidays I experienced. Sometimes that didn’t quite work out like I wanted it to. Ex would throw tantrums and stomp off into the bedroom. I was glad for some holiday peace and quiet after I divorced.

If this is your first holiday after a separation or divorce, take it easy on yourself. This year, my local adult children and I are combining Thanksgiving and Christmas into one holiday gathering in early December. This is the first time we’ve done this and we may be creating a new tradition. Since the divorce, my holidays have been different. For one thing, they have been more peaceful! I am not caught in the throes of burdensome holiday traditions and schedules, I am not at the mercy of someone else’s family, and I am not having to make excuses for anyone’s behavior.

My first post-divorce holiday season was a mere eight days after my divorce. I had not lived with ex for a year, so the holiday without him wasn’t much of a shock. However, I learned a few things: make time for yourself; it’s okay to decline holiday parties you don’t want to go to; if an activity is a stressor, either do less of it or don’t do it at all (example, curb your holiday baking by a good 90%); relax your holiday expectations. Give yourself grace this holiday season. Jesus wasn’t born in the midst of all the holiday hubbub. He was born on a quiet night, in a barn with the animals as His only attendants. Be at peace this holiday season. Stay tuned . . . .

 

Where Do You Live?

When my youngest sister was little, we taught her how to recite her name, address and phone number in case she ever got lost. She was a source of constant amusement – this little voice repeating over and over her address and phone number. We were all  impressed that she picked up on it so quickly and could confidently tell people where she lived.

Fast forward many years to a totally different place and a totally different person – me. My marriage was crumbling. To be quite honest, it was never really very strong. It took a huge hit by ex’s infidelity two months prior to our 12-year anniversary, then another huge hit when our Christian ministry failed. There were smaller tremors in the years between and after until one day, I knew it was so damaged, it was beyond repair. I remember telling my counselor that for years, I had been telling people my house was on fire and no one believed me – until ex attempted suicide. After that, I lived in a place of intense anger.

I had prayed for God to get a hold of my ex, for Him to mold him into the man he should be. It only seemed that the more I prayed, the more bad stuff happened. I became angry and bitter and wanted nothing more than revenge. I was living in a bad place. The more I stayed in that house of anger and bitterness, the worse my life got. My children started to become estranged. My health suffered.

I remember one of my friends telling me that it was okay to feel anger and bitterness, but I couldn’t stay in that place. I had to forgive and let ex go – I had to move out of that bad place that I was living in. It was like my soul was the house from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. You know the one – where Mary throws a rock and smashes the window as she makes a wish, the house that Mary fixes up and makes into a wonderful home for her family. Only my house wasn’t wonderful – it was cold and damp and dark, filled with cobwebs and other scary things.

I can’t pinpoint the exact day or hour, but one day, I found myself moving out of that house and into a nicer place – like the house from “Miracle on 34th Street”, the one that the little girl wishes for and moves into at the end of the movie. Sometimes it still rains and gets cold and damp, but I don’t live in that cold, broken down house anymore. I live in a house where there is almost always sunshine, where there is peace and happiness. My relationships with my children are getting better and my health is better as well.

So, where do you live? Are you living in a cold, damp, dark broken-down house? Or are you living in a house with lots of windows, where there is peace and happiness? Granted, we all have our bad days, but do your good days outnumber your bad days? Are you living in a place of healing and hope? Maybe it’s time to move. Stay tuned. . . .

 

Being Resourceful

Eighteen months after I got divorced, ex stopped paying court-ordered spousal support. He felt he was above the law and able to make that decision. I tried legal means to get him to pay the remainder of the money, but he just ignored my attorney and his attorney when they tried to contact him. I didn’t have the money to pursue him any further. He said it was his job to “make (me) stand on (my) own two feet”. We weren’t even married anymore! How could he think he still had power over my life?!

I guess I could be grateful for that time in my life because it taught me how to be resourceful. I had a lot of debt and not a lot of money. I had to get creative with meals, bill paying, Christmas and birthday gifts, etc.

1. Keep a change jar: My change jar was often my lifesaver, even it was just $5 in my gas tank. Change adds up quickly.

2. Grocery shop for items that will last a while: Frozen fruits and veggies instead of fresh, rice and pasta, tea bags to make your own iced tea, etc. I remember making a rice dish with whatever was in my refrigerator. I had that for lunch and dinner for one week. Yes, it got boring, but it filled my tummy. Eat oatmeal and eggs – not just for breakfast but for other meals as well. Both will fill you up.

3. Make gifts with what you have on hand: My siblings and I exchange Christmas ornaments every year. One year, My Christmas ornament was a laminated maple leaf from the tree beside my house. The leaves were a deep shade of crimson.

4. Be creative – use your talents: Another year for a Christmas ornament, I knitted Christmas trees and attached small buttons as ornaments. If you sew, use your material scraps to make “hodge-podge” ornaments. If you like to take pictures, frame your favorites and give them as gifts.

5. Turn down the heat, turn up the air conditioning: Turn the heat down a few degrees in winter (68) and turn the air up a few degrees in the summer (75). Invest in a fan and open your windows. Conserve water by running your dishwasher only when it’s full. Shower and do laundry at night when the energy demand is less.

6. Use public transportation (if possible): I would often park my car and take the bus from my apartment to work. Granted, I had to walk a mile and a half, but I didn’t have to worry about gas or wear and tear on my car.

7. Exercise self-control: There were so many times I had to tell myself ‘no’ – and I hated it! No to ice cream bars, no to new clothes and shoes, no to eating out. Once you learn how to have self-control, saying ‘no’ to yourself is not so bad.

I learned a great deal during those lean years – about me, about my ability to be resourceful and about others who love me. I knew I’d never go homeless or without food, but it was up to me to do whatever I could to take care of myself and be responsible for my financial obligations. I know now that I am a better person for enduring those lean years, even though they were so hard at the time.

If you are in the midst of some lean years, be encouraged, dear one. You will make it through this. Keep your chin up! Stay tuned. . . .

 

Going Through Hell? Keep Moving!

I just read about a gentleman who received the Medal of Honor today from President Trump. Army Captain (Ret.), Gary “Mike” Rose was a medic on a covert operation during the Vietnam War. Even though he himself was injured, he kept tending to his wounded comrades. Reporter Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Fox News, writes: “In spite of his own injuries, he didn’t sleep for days to make sure all 16 American soldiers deployed with him made it home. They did.” Captain Rose was going through hell, pinned down by enemy gunfire, but he kept on going.

When I was in the midst of the divorce, my sister reminded me of what Winston Churchill once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” When you go through a rough time in your life, keep moving forward, because eventually, there is a way out. Don’t turn around and go back, even though what’s behind you may be familiar. Don’t dwell in or on your past. Move forward – put your head down, grit your teeth and move!

I know it’s hard to move forward. At times, you may feel paralyzed, abandoned, unable to think through the ‘brain fog’ or numbness that has set in. Just put one foot in front of the other, even if all you can manage today is one step forward. Did you get out of bed today? Good! Did you have breakfast or fix breakfast for your children? Even better! Did you change out of your pajamas (don’t worry about taking a shower!)? Many kudos! Life will get better.

Things will never be ‘normal’ again and you will have to find your ‘new normal’. Sometimes, that takes a while. It’s okay. And it’s okay to move at your own pace while you move forward. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We all heal at different times and in different ways. Word of warning: Don’t be destructive. If you think you are facing depression, go get help. It’s okay to be on medication until you get back on your feet.

Find a support group – one that encourages its members to move forward at their own pace. Ask a good friend or two to walk with you while you go through this time. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself abundant grace. Look at that lady in the mirror and smile at her because, even though she is going through hell, she is moving forward. Hugs! Stay tuned. . . .

What is My Purpose?

My mom had such high hopes for my five siblings and I when we were younger – she thought at least one of us would be rich, or perhaps another would be famous. None of us are neither rich nor famous. But we have touched others’ lives for the better. Both of my sisters are educators – one teaches English for the military and another teaches fifth graders. One of my brothers has been a leader in his church and another brother owned his own coffee shop. My mom is currently pursuing her two passions – writing and educating. She has her own website and writes an education column for several local newspapers. Perhaps she is the one who will be rich and famous!

Often, when we come out the other side of a rough time in our lives, we begin to question our existence. If you are a mom, you may feel your children are your identity – until they grow up and begin families of their own. They are no longer your responsibility. Or you may feel your identity was in your marriage. Your purpose as a mom and a wife are gone. So what do you do now?

A sweet friend called me this past weekend. She had been reading my blog. I remember when she first contacted me to comment on something I had written. She was very wounded and didn’t think she could endure the hard time she was going through. I encouraged her and stayed in contact with her. Now, a year or so later, she is, in turn, encouraging other women. I told her she has come so far! She has a purpose – to walk beside other women as they go through a divorce or other hard times in their lives. I am humbled by her strength.

I have found that part of my purpose in life is to write this blog, to encourage other women. I have also found that part of my purpose is to love my adult children through the different phases of their lives. My purpose is also to love my mom and encourage her as she pursues her passion this late in her life. My purpose is to love and encourage those people God has put in my life. In doing so, I will make a difference in my small corner of the world. It has taken me a while to realize my purpose.

For some, their purpose is larger than life. For others, their purpose is small and quiet – making a difference and blooming where they are planted. Do not feel insignificant if your face is not splashed across the latest cover of Vanity Fair. Know that God sees you, hears you and loves you. You are right where He wants you to me. Hugs! Stay tuned. . . .

My Responsibility

As a parent, I wanted to make sure I taught my children to be responsible for themselves. Blaming others for your poor decisions, avoiding the consequences for your actions, and lying about it all was something I would not tolerate. Personal irresponsibility was something I was exposed to for years.

Personal irresponsibility is a direct effect from enabling, rescuing and helicopter parenting. It does little Johnnie or Suzie no good if Mommy and Daddy are always there to pick up every mess they make. I remember when I was in kindergarten and one day I fell over a burm on the sidewalk. I hit the concrete hard and scratched both of my knees. That experience reminds me of what it means to allow our children to stumble and fall and face the consequences.

I am not saying we should deliberately create opportunities for our children’s demise. Heaven’s no! But as parents, we need to let our children experience the consequences of their decisions. We need to let them understand what it means to work hard. We need to be an example of personal responsibility. I must confess that I wasn’t always like that to my children. It wasn’t until I began to see the disintegration of my marriage that I realized I had to be responsible for me.

I’m sure my children got mad at me when I made them stand on their own two feet. I’m sure they resented me when they didn’t get the latest and greatest of everything. I’m sure they hated working those long hours in the summer just to have money for school. My parents made me do the same thing. My responsibility as a parent was to make sure my children were ready to take care of themselves when they left my home. It was hard on all of us, that’s for sure.

But I couldn’t be more proud of my children – all six of them (3 of my own and 3 in-laws). My first grand baby is due next month. I have no doubt my son and daughter-in-law will be amazing parents. My other two children don’t have children of their own yet, but I can see by how they treat their spouses’ nieces and nephews, that they, too, will be amazing parents. Will I take the credit for that? Perhaps some, but I prayed for my children ever since they were in-utero. I prayed for guidance, for other adults who would pour themselves into my children’s lives, and for spouses and in-laws who would also love them beyond measure.

My mom says that you never stop being a mom (parent). My responsibility now is to encourage my children in their parenting, to continue to pray for them and their families and to pass along some small nugget of wisdom that I have learned from raising them. I love my children. And I am going to love my grandchildren, too! Stay tuned . . . .