Do I Know You?

Like many people, occasionally I find myself sifting through my social media and networking “friends” to remind myself of how I met that person, why I connected with that person, and whether or not I still want to be connected. Given our new president and the current political divide in our country, I’ve found myself doing this a little more often in recent weeks. I’m guessing some of my “friends” have been wondering the same about me since I’ve become more outspoken about recent events. It’s sad, but I admit that I thought some of my friends had more compassion and more courage, enough that they would speak out against a bully or a dictator. And I was shocked when some of my friends made generalizations and assumed I was “one of those” just because I believe in improving human rights for all. In fact, a couple of times I wondered, “Who are you? Do I know you? I mean, do I REALLY know you? And do you really know me?”

Generally it takes me a very long time to make friends but when I do, I make friends for life. So when something happens to cause a friendship to fade, I find myself unsettled. Did I say something I shouldn’t have? Did I not say something when I should have? I find the whole process of a “deep dive” to determine what caused the end of a friendship to be disheartening and disappointing. I have a lot of questions and usually I can come up with answers. Unfortunately, sometimes there is no clear understanding of why a friendship died and I can’t help but wonder if maybe I didn’t know that person as well as I thought.

In my former job, I worked with a few people on a daily basis and got to know them very well. One woman frequently vented (and joked) about her mother’s dementia. Another woman shared her struggles as she tended to her father who was recuperating from a broken hip, then grieved openly when he was diagnosed with cancer shortly after. He died a few months later. She had to take a bit of time off of work during all of that and we all pitched in to carry her load. Sharing those kinds of sorrows create friendship bonds, or so I thought. I guess I was naïve in thinking that because we had “suffered” together, we could continue to be friends even though I crossed over to a different company. But since I am no longer on the team and don’t see those people on a daily basis anymore, they’ve stopped including me. Out of sight, out of mind I guess.

I’m reminded of when one of my brothers went through a nasty divorce many years ago and his friends chose sides. My brother joked about how he was grateful that the divorce left him with six friends, enough for pallbearers when his time would come. I laughed at the time, but stopped laughing when I went through my own divorce and came out with less than six friends.

It’s easy to make friends when your kids are young. They make friends at school and you get to know those parents and you all end up at school events together, or you live in the same neighborhoods and take turns watching each other’s kids or carpooling to games or dances. But what do you do when all your kids are grown? How do you make new friends then?

Perhaps instead of making new friends, I should focus my effort on sustaining the good friendships that I have by reaching out more often. But what do you do about those friends who don’t reciprocate when you reach out and work to maintain a friendship? Some friends are satisfied with the standard, “How are you? Good. Me too. No, nothing’s new. Great catching up! Talk to you soon.” I’m finding that no longer satisfies me. I know we’re all tired and overworked, but aren’t we supposed to be there for each other? Share our struggles and our successes?

What it all comes down to is, I value my friends who share the trivial along with the grand, who are not afraid to cry amidst laughter, who dance with me when no one else is on the dance floor, and who take turns at being the initiator of our conversations. I want the friend who asks me how I am and then waits to hear the answer. And I want to be that kind of friend in return.

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Standing By My Man

It’s no secret that my husband and I are on opposite sides politically. We met and fell in love before we knew that about each other. Shocking statement, I know. But it wasn’t a problem because we both did a lot of bi-partisan work and we each were well-versed in compromise, finding common ground, and negotiating. Besides, the political divide in our country was just a small one at the time. Our core philosophies were the same—work hard, do the right thing, treat each other as you want to be treated, watch out for the less fortunate, help others whenever you can.

I’m old enough to remember when Monica Lewinsky made the evening news, along with Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, and others. I remember the backlash Hilary received for standing by her man. I even joked at the time that it was a good thing they lived in a big house with more than one bedroom because that meant Bill had somewhere to sleep.

When Al and Tipper Gore divorced, I was caught by surprise. And I wondered, how is it they didn’t make it but Bill and Hillary have survived as a couple? Political ambitions trump all else? Or maybe having more than one bedroom really did make a difference?

These last few months have challenged my marriage in ways I never expected. At first, I laughed out loud and teased my husband. “Did you hear the latest?” I would ask with each breaking story about Donald Trump’s behavior or bold lie. My husband usually justified whatever it was by saying Trump was misunderstood or misinterpreted. But then the news media began playing videos. Trump denied mocking a disabled reporter, and the media ran video of him doing just that. Trump said he never opposed the Iraq war, and the media gleefully ran old video of Trump saying he opposed it. Trump claimed no one respected women more than he did. Access Hollywood video proved that a lie.

Over the course of this election, I’ve witnessed a shocking turn of personality in my husband. Ten years ago I married a man who valued women as equals, who supported my desire for a career, who would never consider saying a derogatory or defaming statement about anyone. And now he supports a man who has repeatedly verbally abused, bullied, and sexually assaulted women; a man who has ridiculed POWs; a man who has laughed at the grief of a fallen soldier’s parents.

Funny thing about life. The older you get, the more of life experience you have to draw from and sometimes, not always, you’re wiser as a result. Many years ago I was desperately trying to get my daughters and me safely away from their father. Abuse and violence were a daily occurrence and I just wanted to get us out alive. I swore I would never allow myself or my daughters to find themselves in that situation again. Divorce was welcome relief and it saved our lives.

Fast forward to present day, to the political climate we are in. Events of the summer caused me to no longer talk about the election with my husband. Not because I fear for the safety of my life, but because I fear for the preservation of his soul. He has been brainwashed to the point of believing it is okay to joke about a person’s disability, that locker room banter can include sexual assault language, and that there’s little need for truth. His delusional mind now believes he needs to go buy a gun because civil war is going to break out if Trump loses.

No, I do not fear for my safety in the same way I did in my first marriage. But I am concerned about how I’m going to get my husband to walk away from the ledge of the extreme Right and bring him back closer to center. He is lost and needs help. No other woman would have him now. I am his only hope for a nurse to restore him back to a world of respect and love of country. I’m standing by my man. And if our country is going to have a successful future, I pray other women will do the same with their husbands. Gently, lovingly let’s bring these brainwashed souls back into our hearts. Maybe in the process we can restore civility and lessen the political divide.

Challenge of the Ordinary

A few months ago I didn’t want to write. Everything that came to mind was a whine and I didn’t want to be that person. So I made a conscious effort to focus on living an ordinary life. It was an easy decision. Instead of fretting about how we would pay our bills that month, I walked in my backyard and took photos of my flowers. Rather than screaming in frustration from being overwhelmed, I sat on my deck and looked at the moon and stars. I thought my plan was working because life became a bore.

What I didn’t realize was that several issues were simmering and I was trying to ignore them by insisting on the ordinary, not the real. Instead of acknowledging my emotions and feelings, I was dismissing them. Had I known what I was doing (and I should have seen it), I would have changed course. Hindsight is perfect. Unfortunately, everything came crashing down this past weekend when something happened to cause hurt from nearly 40 years ago to rise to the surface. And when it did, it dragged a couple of my daughters along for the nasty ride. I’m still processing all that transpired so I’m not ready to write about the weekend’s events just yet. But I do need to acknowledge the overwhelming hurt so I can ease the pain in my heart and put myself back on my feet.

It’s always a surprise to me when something in the present day brutally tosses me back to the mid 1970s when both of my parents died. For as often as it has happened, you’d think it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore. But it is because it’s always unexpected. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy doing the “good work” all the experts told me I needed to do to live a normal life. Evidently there’s a difference between normal and ordinary.

So even though I thought I had done all the hard work, apparently there’s a lot of hidden baggage I carry around from the past. Those forty years seem a lifetime ago. So long ago that in fact I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a child, to have parents. I’ve forgotten their voices, their laughs. Without photos I would have forgotten their faces. But I haven’t forgotten the hurt from some of the decisions that were made at the time by others that impacted my life and hurt caused by the way a couple of siblings treated me then and off and on for the last 40 years.

So much time has passed that sometimes my brain plays tricks on me and I wonder if it’s created a revised version of my life. It’s as if I was plopped into this world at the age of 16, the youngest sibling in a dysfunctional family that didn’t want the burden of another member. No parents to guide us. No adult to show me the way. Yet, I had received enough teaching and training that subconsciously kept me standing tall, capable of supreme independence, driven to survive. No matter how often or how hard I fell, instinctively I found my way to getting back on my feet. And even though I thought I had conquered each dragon, the ashes of feelings and emotions still had some warm embers, albeit buried deep.

Events of this past weekend stirred the fire. I managed to stay calm and talk to my daughters so they feel a little better but this new hurt left marks on them too and it’s going to take a long time before they can put it behind them. I’m not sure I will ever be able to let it go, knowing that I’ve carried this for a lifetime already. An expert would correctly label this a core hurt, which means my current anger and hurt latch on to and dredge up every single moment of hurt I’ve felt since becoming an orphan. How is that even possible? I’m a finite being but these feelings are infinite! I’m past the middle of my life, and I truly thought I was done with all this old hurt. “Fat and Sassy” had become my new motto. So why in the world do I have to go through this again?

It was a painful way to learn there is indeed a difference between living a normal life and living an ordinary life. Ordinary is much more challenging than I thought. It requires balance. It requires that I keep an eye on the real. It requires that I feel and experience emotions. Maybe the best I can do is strive for “my normal” and put ordinary back on the shelf.

When the Pastor Dies

About a week ago the calls and Facebook messages went out: Pastor Andy had died. It was a shock to everyone and yet, it should not have been a surprise. Andy was only 64 but he didn’t watch what he ate, didn’t exercise, and had been dealing with a few health issues for several years. His face often turned beet red during his sermons or when he enthusiastically sang a hymn. He made light of his weight often and admitted frequently that his doctor (and his wife) wanted him to slow down. Yet, he was driven in a way few of us completely understood. I wonder now if he knew he had to make the most of every minute because there weren’t enough minutes left.

I first met Pastor Andy in the mid-1990s. Our church membership had grown and the load was too much for our pastor, so Andy was brought in to help out mostly with the youth. I like my religion on the traditional side and Pastor Andy was anything but ordinary. Life was not black and white to him. It was every color of the rainbow, and he loved it all. He was exuberant no matter the task, always on the go like an Energizer bunny, and always singing, laughing, or telling a joke. Andy was always trying to make a buck, always trying to sell something, always full of more ideas than any of us could keep up with. He thought outside the box many times a day, so it’s not incorrect to say he “flew by the seat of his pants.” And it was all too unconventional for me.

My oldest daughter was around 10 or so when Pastor Andy joined our church. He was too much for her, even though I tried hard not to let my bias show. My second daughter understood Pastor Andy’s humor and she admired his can-do and nonconformist attitude. My other two daughters never really “took” to Andy, but they didn’t dislike him either. Rather, they were indifferent about him. And yet, when I broke the news to my daughters that Pastor Andy had died, each one’s response was the same. “How sad.”

All those years ago, Pastor Andy hadn’t been at the church very long when he did something that stirred my anger. In fact, it was the only time I’ve ever formally complained to the church. It was Easter Sunday and Pastor Andy was giving the sermon. My four young children were listening as Pastor Andy read a children’s book about Easter and when he got to the end of the story he loudly and firmly declared there was no Easter Bunny! I was stunned. I didn’t feel it was his place to break that particular news to my children. I looked around the church to see if other parents were upset, but it didn’t look like it. To this day, I have no idea if I was the only one who complained but I suspect I probably was. It was a moment I never forgot, and it created a wall between Pastor Andy and I. Over the years we grew to respect each other, but there was never a lot of love between us.

As time went on, bits and pieces of Andy’s childhood made their way into his sermons and I came to understand more about the boy who grew to be a man who became a pastor. His childhood wasn’t easy. And he carried an enormous amount of emotional baggage every single day of his life. He spent his lifetime trying to do good, to make everyone around him happy. He always had a smile on the outside, but I suspect many times he was crying on the inside.

On that fateful day last week, Andy was struck down by a massive heart attack. He never regained consciousness, but he lived a couple more days, just long enough for his family to all gather at his side and for the congregation to deal with the shock of his loss.

It is absolutely striking to read the tributes posted to honor him on Facebook. This man, despite his emotional scars and unorthodox ways, touched hundreds, if not thousands, of people. He didn’t just walk in their lives as their pastor, he was involved in their daily struggles, often knocking on the front door unannounced at the moment when these people needed him the most. He brought groceries to young families in need. He gave rides to senior citizens who couldn’t find a way to see the doctor. He helped parents mend relationships with teenagers. He counseled couples struggling with their marriage. He was anywhere and everywhere all at the same time. And all those things he was selling to make a buck, were merely a means to money to give to others or help others in myriad ways.

Despite all the demands on his time, he still made time for his wife and four children and several grandchildren. His devotion to his wife could be the gold standard for all men to follow. His two sons were so influenced by him that they too became ministers. The greatest gift his family gave was in sharing Pastor Andy with the world.

Indeed, Pastor Andy lived life to the fullest. And over the last few days as I’ve read the stories others have shared, I’ve discovered I really didn’t know this man at all. While I preferred traditional religion and planning events ahead of time, Pastor Andy, flying by the seat of his pants, had untold determination and something much more powerful. Faith. He never doubted that God would be there for him, providing whatever was needed in any given moment for any of the countless members of his flock. And he also had not one tiny iota of doubt about whether he would be welcomed in heaven. Andy knew God would be waiting with open arms. And remarkably all members of the congregation, despite the enormous void that has just opened in their lives, are celebrating this man’s passing into eternal life. The only point for discussion they have is what song Pastor Andy was singing as he passed through the pearly gates.

I am blessed for having known Pastor Andy. It is my loss that I didn’t understand him and instead placed a wall between us. Even in death, he is still teaching.

“The peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

Body Talk

I headed out this morning to do some errands and shopping. As I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, I saw a woman getting into her car to leave. So I stopped and waited, with my blinker turned on so that anyone coming along would know I was planning to take that spot. As I was waiting for the woman to back out, another car approached in front of me and stopped. The woman who was leaving was taking a very long time, and I was waiting patiently. And so was the car that had come from the other direction. As I sat there I wondered, he’s not going to try to grab the spot when the woman backs out, is he? No, he didn’t. He must have grown impatient waiting for the woman to back out, because after a couple of minutes, he moved on passed me and over to another aisle to park. But as he passed by me, I saw his face and instantly I was taken back to another time in my life.

When a man, any man, has an anger problem, there are tell-tale signs that his body language silently yells. Sadly, too many of us women have experienced first-hand the results of that anger and we became “bilingual.” Our very lives and the lives of our children depended on being able to “hear” the body talk of anger.

As often happens when shoppers enter a store at the same time, I encountered this man and his wife and small child in several places throughout the store. In the canned goods, near the produce, by the milk. His wife was quiet. His child was withdrawn. It was painful for me, and I tried very hard to just keep on moving quickly and out of their way. I did my best to ignore them, to treat them like all the other shoppers that I encountered today but none of whom I noticed. I was grateful that they were not anywhere near when I entered the checkout. I just wanted to get home, where I knew I would be safe.

Perhaps none of the other shoppers today heard this man’s body talk in the way I did. What a blessing it would be if that was the case! And it was a poignant reminder to me of the life I once lived. I was surprised that after thirteen years of being apart from my ex-husband, I am still “bilingual.”

When I got home with my groceries, my loving husband came out to the garage to help carry things in. I gave him a big kiss and told him I love him. He probably thinks it’s for helping carry in the bags. I’ll tell him the real reason later when we have a few moments to ourselves.

Spirit of Christmas, please visit us!

No, this isn’t a plea for presents or treasures or vacations in warm places. Truth be told, I don’t need anything wrapped in shiny paper this Christmas. I am blessed. I have all the material things that I need. And I even have a few extra dollars that I have already donated to charity. I’m healthy, my husband is healthy, our children and grandchildren are healthy. Indeed, that’s a mighty fine Christmas! What more could I possibly ask for?

There’s just one thing. I’m looking for a Christmas miracle that cannot be wrapped in a box with a bow. It can’t be bought in a store or ordered online. I don’t even know if it can be manufactured by humans, although Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel and Charles Schultz came very close a couple of times. I remember watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” every year when I was a child. We didn’t have DVR or TiVo back then, so we had to make sure we were sitting in front of the TV on the one night the show was on. And because every kid in town watched that show, the next day at school everyone was a little more kind, a little more caring. It was an infusion of the Christmas spirit.

In my lifetime, I have experienced more than once the true spirit of Christmas. And a couple of times, I’ve been fortunate enough (and blessed) to be on the giving side of a Christmas miracle. It’s a wonderful feeling to help someone who wants to believe. I am a believer, which is what makes this year’s Christmas story so dreary.

You see, instead of decorating and cooking and playing festive holiday music, we are battling über drama in our family. It’s drama in the most extreme sense. In fact, I never thought drama could get so ridiculous, so hurtful, so pointless. And it’s all about whether we will gather for Christmas, and where, and when.

As a believer, I cannot fathom even considering not gathering with family at Christmas. So the fact that two of my daughters are refusing to gather just doesn’t compute. In my mind, this all goes back to a still-unexplained meltdown that happened with Kate, my oldest daughter, in August. And now Emily, my daughter with entitlement issues, has formed an alliance with Kate and the two of them are refusing to spend Christmas with me. The other two sisters are just as confused as I am, and they’ve asked Kate and Emily several times to speak up about what this is really about. But Kate and Emily won’t answer. Instead they throw out hurtful and intentionally mean words, calling the others names for trying to defend me, and twist anything any of us say into absolute nonsense.

At first my husband told me to not take it personally, but even he can no longer deny that all this anger and hatred is directed at me personally. Over the last month I’ve tried a hundred ways to negotiate and compromise, even offered to go to them. That threw them off a bit, but they quickly recovered and suddenly were not available on any of the days that they knew I was. At this point I’ve thrown up my arms and said, “Fine! I’ll celebrate Christmas without you!”

And I will. But it won’t be the same. No matter how many people gather in our house for the holidays, there will be gaping holes. So I’m praying for the Spirit of Christmas to have pity on us and spread some magic snowflakes or put up a guiding star so that two lost sheep can find their way back to the flock, where they can be cared for and tended to and loved.

November Thanks #26 | 3 Gifts Preparing

A thirty-day exercise in pausing, reflecting, appreciating, and giving thanks for simple things.

I love the surge of anticipation and energy that runs through me when I’m preparing for a special event or holiday gathering. It lifts my spirits and reminds me that life is good. Some days I need reminding.

Today is my husband’s birthday, a milestone birthday. He wants to celebrate it quietly without any reminders of the exact milestone. Unfortunately for him, all his family and friends know the milestone and they’re not going to be quiet about it. Coming the day before Thanksgiving, and all the preparations that come with the holiday, his birthday could easily get swept to the side but I won’t let that happen. A birthday needs celebrating, even quietly. Yesterday I went to the store and bought a small container of gelato, a special flavor that my husband loves. The store was having a sale if you buy two, so I bought a second one in the flavor I love. I hid the two small containers in the freezer, planning to surprise my husband with them for dessert after his birthday dinner tonight.

Last night as I prepared for bed, I took my usual hot, soaking bath. It’s a time of meditation for me, a practice in mindfulness. It frees my mind of stress and allows me to get a good night’s sleep. But sometimes my mind gets free of all the clutter and I remember something very important or I get a really great idea for a story that I need to write down. And that happened last night, so after my bath I came downstairs to jot down some notes and what did I discover? My husband eating a small container of gelato! And it was the flavor I had bought for myself! Just like a little boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar, my husband grinned and said, “Happy birthday to me!” Indeed.

Tucked alongside birthday plans and Thanksgiving preparations are the beginnings of decorating for Christmas. The first decoration I put up is a collection of porcelain houses. I have quite a large assortment and it’s really quite a bit of work. Some years I didn’t put them up and my daughters, one especially, complained. It is such a part of their Christmas tradition to have those houses lit up. This year, the complaining daughter offered to come help me put up the houses. What fun! And today is the moment when we both could do it, so TA DA! up go the houses. Well, not yet. It is still very early in the morning. The house is quiet, the sky is just starting to wake with light. Some neighbors have left for work; others are tucked quietly in their houses. And here I am, enjoying the tranquility that can only be found in the quiet of the morning, before all chaos breaks loose.

Oh, but how I love the chaos and the commotion! Birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas all rolled into one today! Imagine the surge of energy and excitement running through us all. Anticipation!