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Grief, forgiveness, and love

Monday, August 28th, 2017

A few months ago, my life was completely upended when a man I deeply loved betrayed my trust and broke my heart. While the details matter to me, all I’ll say is this: I was planning to move to Nashville so we could be together, but it didn’t happen. The relationship was serious enough to warrant me selling my house and putting a down payment on another — but when a man tells you there’s someone else, you do not follow through with a move across the country to be with him.

I have hesitated to write about this, because in doing so, I can only share my own experience. This person is living a now separate narrative, and despite the pain that his choices have put me through, I am not out to demonize or villainize anyone involved. He meant more to me than that. I’m just sad.

I want to be honest about what I’ve gone through, what I’m still going through. I am not writing from a place of resolution or remedy; the heartache is still very much in process for me because I lost so much. I lost a man who had become my best person. I lost a relationship I had been led to believe was “it.” I lost a dream of a future that had made so much sense — even felt confirmed and ordained by God, to be honest. I lost not one, but two houses. I lost any sense of direction or home. I lost the ability to trust. I lost 15 lbs and a whole lot of money. I lost everything we had been building toward. Cruelest of all, in some moments, I lost all hope.

:::::

How do you hold the conflicting emotions of heartbreak, anger, and the remnants of love all at the same time? It’s an unbearable tension. But here is what I’m learning.

GRIEF
To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.

But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfort. Beauty. Dancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.

FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness is not primarily for the one you are forgiving. It’s for you. Choosing to forgive sets you free from the bondage of what was done to you, the pain that was inflicted upon you. It doesn’t change it, it certainly doesn’t excuse any of it — but it loosens your chains and allows you to move forward, inch by inch, breath by breath, day by day. When you release the grip on your right to harm the other person, you get your hands back. You get your life back. Slowly.

It doesn’t happen all at once. I’m finding it’s something I have to do over and over in the hopes that one day my heart will match the choice. It stings like a death; a grave is involved, the burying of a perfectly good hatchet.

Nothing about it feels fair. Nothing about it feels justified. But isn’t that the point?

LOVE
You cannot love without risk. There is no such thing. The pain I’m in comes from the love I felt, because I was brave enough to show up as my fullest, truest self and enter a relationship that mattered. And when you truly love someone, you don’t get to be in control. To force, to clutch, to cling, to do whatever it takes to get your way — that is not a picture of love. That is a picture of fear. Fear is a liar, and the opposite of love.

This may have ended in disaster for me, but I will never regret opening my heart to hope and allowing myself to be known by another. It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and a testament to strength, not weakness.

:::::

I am not “recovered.” This experience has altered my insides in ways I struggle to articulate. I was left heartbroken and homeless, and some days I’m still so sad, when I walk around I swear you can hear my heart rattle in my chest. Time truly is the only healer for something so brutal, and unfortunately, there’s no way to fast-forward. But I’ve made it through these first few months; here I raise my Ebenezer.

You may be wondering where I am. I obviously had to move out of my Minneapolis house in July, gutted and reeling, suddenly with nowhere to go. But thanks to my amazing friends and family, I’ve found places to go. Foxy is with me, of course. We’re being taken care of.

I have missed sharing my life in a virtual way. It didn’t feel right for me to carry on posting like nothing had happened, because racking up likes and comments is a false balm. The pain of this betrayal has been potent, and it’s been important for me to honor it by bearing the full weight of what I’ve lost. But I’m still here.

The path I took to get here has washed out behind me. The way forward isn’t yet clear. But I’m gathering the broken pieces in hopes of building something new. It’s not the future that I wanted, but it’s the future that I’m going to get. And somehow, I want to live it well.

You’ll be hearing from me again soon, grief and forgiveness and love intermingled, moving forward and holding on to hope for dear life.

Huge thanks to my amazing sister-in-law Ashley Parsons for capturing this image. You’ve helped remind me that I’m strong in a season when I’ve felt anything but.

A question for Valentine’s Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

My favorite song of the last year is Brandy Clark’s “Love Can Go to Hell.” If you haven’t heard it, please give yourself the sweet, melancholic gift of listening — if for no other reason than Brandy Clark is one of the smartest writers I’ve ever run across.

But lest my love of this song make you think otherwise, my heart is pretty soft these days, in the rawest sense. Recent events have left me feeling exposed and vulnerable. No need to get into the details, but I’ll tell you this: I feel like a stray dog who has spent the past several years hiding under a garage to avoid being kicked, and when finally coaxed out by kindness personified waiting across the street, I got hit by a car.

[Awkward and abrupt sidenote:
Speaking of terrified dogs,
check out what happened last
night in my own backyard!]

I’m okay. I really am. Just sad — which, if emotions were college subjects, is sort of my major. Sadness is my wheelhouse. I’m well-practiced in it to the point that it actually feels a little bit comfortable (said the Enneagram Four). And I would rather my heart be soft enough to hurt than safe to the point of numbness.

Because after all:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” —C.S. Lewis

So here is my question, and it’s not a rhetorical one. I am truly interested in your answers, if you’d be brave enough to share.

How do you keep your heart soft in a hard world?

Because I have to believe a soft heart is worth fighting for.

Hootenannie’s Dating Tips

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

I’ve heard that activity on online dating sites soars after the holidays.

As one who currently does not have a profile on any dating site (despite having spent some quality time on every available platform in the past – and probably will again in the future), I say good on you. If you’ve declared 2015 the year of finding love, I wish you more of Cupid’s arrows than you know what to do with.

By no means am I a dating aficionado. That very thought deserves a literal LOL. But in 2014, I went on my fair share of dates – maybe more than any other year in my life thus far. And I learned a few things. And because I am known as a Lady of Wisdom (again, literal LOL – and why can there not be a Sarcasm font?), I am here to bestow on you Hootenannie’s Dating Tips. LOL. LOL.

  • Get a puppy. Instant conversation starter. But…
  • Do not go out with men from the dog park. You need that place too much to want to avoid it later.
  • If Tinder were space travel, you’d be at Pluto sooner than you’d think (i.e. three days). Despite how it feels in the beginning, the options are actually quite finite. And then you reach the end. And you realize, “THERE IS NO MAN FOR ME IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE” (i.e. 50 mile radius).
  • If someone is sending you mixed signals, it’s actually just one signal: run for your life. Mixed signals are the equivalent of multiplying by zero: no matter how positive, times it by zero and you wind up with nothing.
  • Do not spend the better part of a year emotionally entangled with a person who has no intention of dating you – even if he is the best texter you know. Listen, I grew up in church youth group, which means that at age 14 I made a “Husband List” (just to keep the LOLs rolling). And I’m here to tell you that not even googly-eyed teenage girls put “good texter” on their List.
  • If he doesn’t want to date you, do not listen to “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on repeat while drinking wine and envisioning your bleak future of solitude.
  • If she doesn’t want to date you, don’t send her snarky texts in the middle of the night and defriend her on Facebook before she’s even awake for the day. Take it like a man, because God knows I’m trying to.
  • A breakup is like a broken bone: set it, and then don’t mess with it.
  • Confidence will get you further than looks. Just look at Tom Petty.
  • Never, under any circumstances, assume that the man is her cousin.
  • No matter what, keep hoping. Because just like Fievel says, it helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star.

Now go forth and date. Be your wonderful self, and don’t settle for someone who doesn’t make you laugh. But maybe be open to someone shorter than you imagined when you wrote your Husband List. I’ll be here on my couch with Foxy cheering you on.

DatingTips

“Everything that made you so different”

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

“At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by, you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are, especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself, ‘But I am this person.’ And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.” –Phoebe in Wonderland

Kodiak “Toad” Parsons – 2001-2013

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Less than two weeks after taking her to Kansas City, my mom called to let me know that Toad had taken an abrupt turn for the worst. She was in a lot of pain, and the X-rays showed that she had no discs left in her neck. Severe arthritis was taking over. Her back legs were buckling. And thanks to my friend Mark and his heroic buddy pass provision, I got on a last-minute flight.

Last night, we said goodbye to my sweetest friend. She was the happiest little dog, social and affectionate, funny and cute, and so much braver than me. I’m so grateful to have had 2 years of 3-legged adventures with her, and especially relieved that I could be with her in her final moments – moments that were heartbreaking but somehow peaceful. Although in pain, she was attentive, ears laid back, tail wagging until the very end.

Toad’s life made a difference to mine. She forced me to not be the center of my universe – which, let’s be honest, is hard to do. She was companionship. She was unconditional love. I felt better when she was around – which is why I took her with me everywhere I could: work, parties, counseling (yes, I took her with me to counseling). She made people stop on the street, charming everyone she came across. She loved cheese and rotisserie chicken. She hated having her picture taken and getting her feet wet.

Most of all, she loved people, and I’m pretty sure it’s okay for me to say that she loved me the most, followed by my family and then probably Graham Stoner. I know that so many of you loved her, and for those who never met her, I wish you could have. She was one of a kind.

I’ll miss you more than I can say, Toady – good girl.

A few good men

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

The first half of 2013 was a busy time for the Parsons – my sister Becca got married in January, and my sister Sarah got married in April.

In the past, the thought of “brother-in-law” never really crossed my mind. I’ve had a sister-in-law (the world’s best) since I was 18, but that’s as far as my in-law reality stretched; I never spent much time thinking about what my sisters’ future partners would be like – probably because I assumed I’d have a husband before I had a brother-in-law. Courtesy chuckle.

But then, in quick succession, my younger sisters married really, really wonderful guys. Our family has grown by 2 this year (well, 3 if you count Becca’s new puppy the Grizz), and these guys have joined the circus that is the Parsons with grace and humor and generosity and care. I’m so thankful that we all love them (I’m sure they’re thankful for that, too – because we can be a cantankerous bunch).

My brother and sister-in-law captured Becca and Michael’s wedding back in January, and have done it again for Sarah and Creighton. The full post is here – and a glimpse is below. My favorite part (besides Micah and Tyler as hobbits, obviously, and Zion with the Grizz) is the look on Creighton and Sarah’s faces.

the day sarah and creighton got married. from WE ARE THE PARSONS on Vimeo.

In the words of Jo March, “I could never love anyone as I love my sisters.” And today, I’m thankful for the good men who love them, too.

If you only read one thing today

Monday, March 4th, 2013

read this.

The progression of last night’s in-flight conversation

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

“Can I put the arm rest up?”

“Sure.”

[spilling over into my seat]  “I’m still a big girl.  But I’ve lost over 200 lbs.”

“Wow – that’s incredible!  Congratulations – what an accomplishment.”

“No more seat-belt expander for me.”

[high-five with a 70-year old woman, initiated by yours truly]

“I’m Pat, by the way, and this is my husband Bobby.”

“Hi, Pat and Bobby.  I’m Annie.”

– – – – – – – –

“Are you from Nashville?”

“No, but I work for a company that’s based there.  I’m heading back for work, and a friend’s wedding on New Years’ Eve.”

“The company that you work for – do they rate well in customer service?”

“We do, in fact.  It’s one of the things that we’re known for.”

“Well, I tell you what.  You need to move to Mesa, Arizona, and teach those nincompoops a thing or two about customer service.  I have never met such dolts in my life as I did in Mesa, Arizona.  Or as many Ethiopians as I did in the Denver airport.”

– – – – – – – –

“How did you two meet?”

“We were in high school.  I had a girl friend who wasn’t allowed to car-date unless it was with another couple.  So she begged me to go on a double-date with her and her boyfriend, and Bobby here.  I couldn’t stand him.”

“What?  How could you not stand Bobby?”

“I don’t know, I just couldn’t.”

“Okay, go on.”

“My girl friend liked the guy she was going with, but her family told her that she couldn’t marry him, because he wasn’t a Christian.  So she wrote him a Dear John letter.  But, you know what?  She died of typhoid fever.”

[gasp]  “That’s terrible.”

[somber]  “Yes.”  [gung-ho]  “But after that, Bobby called me up to ask for a date with just me.  And I said yes.  And we’ve been together ever since.”

– – – – – – – –

“How have you made marriage last for 49 years?”

“It’s give-and-take.  Always give-and-take.  I love him so much, I hope I die before he does, because I could never live without him.”

– – – – – – – –

“Bobby has had a kidney transplant, two knee replacements, and open-heart surgery.”  [fumbling for his meds]  “I hope we make it to 50 years before he dies.  Want a sugar-free yogurt-covered pretzel?”

“Sure.”

– – – – – – – –

“Have you met Mr. Right?”

“No, I haven’t.  Not yet.  I hope I do someday.”

“Oh, you will.  A girl like you can’t last much longer without being snatched up.  Blows my mind that it hasn’t happened already, actually.  Men are idiots.”

“Thanks, Bobby.”  Smile.  For real.  Big smile.

– – – – – – – –

“Girl, I’ll tell you what.  I can already tell that you have common sense – which is more than I can say for most people in this world.”

“Well, thanks, Bobby!”

“You do.  You’ve got it.  Common sense.  And pretty eyes.

I need to use the restroom.”

– – – – – – – –

I’ll be honest: at first, I felt tempted to open up my laptop and cut off conversation with them.  But I’m so glad that I didn’t.  Pat and Bobby reminded me that life is precious and fleeting, like a vapor, and that the only thing worth passing on is love.  I don’t know how to reconcile the notion that “life is meaningful” with “yeah, but everyone dies” – but this couple, towards the end of their relatively quiet, non-glamorous years, somehow made me believe that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I think I should switch them.

Everyone dies.

Yeah, but life is meaningful.

Extremely, intensely, marvelously meaningful.

In terms of love

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Is it better to have high expectations, or none at all?

You guys have come through with some excellent thoughts in the past – care to pipe up again?

Messy love

Monday, September 13th, 2010

With my Netflix membership, I wind up watching a lot of crappy movies.  “Noble Things” was awful.  “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” made me want to gouge my eyeballs out.  “Billy: The Early Years of Billy Graham” was the hokiest thing I’ve ever seen.  “The Invention of Lying” was I CAN’T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT.

These are horrible movies.  Never watch them.  I added them to my queue out of curiosity, but curiosity killed the cat and Annie Parsons.

However, I’ve discovered a few gems that are worth mentioning.

The Greatest

Everybody’s Fine

The Boys Are Back

Last Chance Harvey

These are movies about messy people, and painful events, and broken families, and broken hearts – but also, love.  Not Nicholas Sparks love – but complicated, nuanced, imperfect love.  They leave you feeling both sad and hopeful – which, isn’t that just like life?

(Also, when I did a Google search for “‘The Greatest’ movie,” this is what it rendered:

I can’t say that I disagree.)