Category Archives: lessons learned

I’m Still Standing

My oldest sister just celebrated 37 years of wedded bliss. When I called to wish her a Happy Anniversary, part of me was jealous. When I married, I thought I’d be married for a long time. I could never have anticipated the issues that led to my divorce. As far as I know, only one other of my five siblings has experienced the same issues I did in my marriage. Instead of allowing those issues to destroy his marriage and family, he sought help. Now, he helps other men who are dealing with the same issues.

When I heard my brother’s story, I was so grateful to God for working in his life. I was grateful that my brother recognized the value of his marriage and family before it was too late. I was grateful that even though he could have succumbed to a horrible issue and destroy his family, he did not. He ‘hung on by a thread’ and trusted God to rescue him.

My story is different and did not turn out as well as my brother’s. However, what ex meant for harm and destruction, God turned into blessing. I want ex to know that in spite of his actions, in spite of his refusal to abide by court mandated restitution, in spite of his wife’s scathing words to me, I am still standing! I don’t need him to validate my life and my relationships with my children. He no longer has any kind of power in my life.

In the 1990 epic, “Dances with Wolves”, there is a scene where Lt. Dunbar (Kevin Coster) meets Stands with a Fist, a white woman who was adopted as a child into the native tribe. Lt. Dunbar asks her, “Why is that your name?” She replies that when the natives killed her family, she defiantly stood her ground with her fist in the air – a symbol of ferocity and survival.

I stand with my fist in the air, showing ex my defiance, ferocity and survival. I am still standing and I want other women to know it is possible to do the same after a divorce. Don’t allow ex to have power in your life. You may be barely able to stand, but you are standing. That’s the best thing that can happen – to be able to stand in victory after enduring a particularly difficult incident in one’s life. Though I am not able to celebrate ongoing years of marriage, I am able to celebrate survival – and that’s the best thing to celebrate! Stay tuned. . .

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Blessed

Christmas is only a few days away. I am keenly aware that this time of year can be incredibly stressful on its own without adding the additional stress of going through a divorce. I also know that the holidays can be a painful part of the year, too – especially if one has experienced a loss during the year. I remember the first holiday season after my dad died – we felt empty, like something was missing. The holidays are still a rough time for my mom because she misses my dad so much.

I divorced right before Christmas seven years ago. As a result, I didn’t have much money, but I did have a great deal of anger. I was angry that my finances were shot. I was angry that my children did not have good holiday memories like I did. I was angry that ex had more money and was able to give my children more for Christmas than I was. That first Christmas after my divorce was not a very good one.

I was so angry for so long that I lost sight of one thing – how blessed I was. I had a roof over my head, a job, food in my cupboards, a car that ran and people who loved me. God had provided the things I needed. There is a big difference between needs and wants. Our needs are those basics we need for survival, food, shelter and clothing. The wants are everything else – a car, a cell phone, new shoes. Even with as little as I had, I was still richer than many people in other parts of the world.

I am blessed. I do not have the latest and greatest of everything – I don’t need it. I don’t have a car with all the bells and whistles – I don’t need it. I content with what I have, where I am, and with whom I am sharing my life. I have man who loves me. I have a new grand baby. I have six amazing children. My mom is in good health. My siblings are all doing well. I have a good job and a good boss. I have two hilarious pups who think I am everything. I have wonderful friends. What else is there?

The floor beneath my Christmas tree is not stacked high with gifts. I didn’t go into debt to buy gifts this year. My bills are paid. I am content. I am blessed. I thank God for keeping me in His care. As this year comes to a close, I do not wish for next year to bring financial prosperity or more stuff, I wish for more opportunities to serve – my coworkers, my family, Cycle Dude, my church and my community. I am blessed and I wish to bless others.

Keep a quiet heart this holiday season as you meditate on the reason for the season – Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by expectations, relationships and unfulfilled promises. Know that you are loved. Stay tuned. . . .

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. . . .

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. . . .