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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.

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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.

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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.

Bouncing back and living forward

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we can’t always date who we want.

I’ve been both the rejector and the rejectee – and even if it’s mutual, it’s still the pits. Blame it on timing or distance or one person deciding that they’re just not that into the other; whatever the circumstance, love can knock the wind out of you.

I’ve grown really hesitant about writing about singleness online, mostly because sometimes it brings up some well-meaning but largely unhelpful responses (not from YOU, my compassionate friends. But from The Others). For example:

  • Love will find you when you’re not looking. I would wager that 95% of couples I know were “looking” when they found each other – cab light on, antenna up, and putting out the vibe.
  • Just be content with God alone – then he’ll bring you a husband. As if marriage is a reward for the very most devoted. Super lame formula.
  • Maybe you should try online dating. It’s 2015 – of course I’ve tried online dating! A bunch of times. And while I know plenty of people who have had great success with it, I hate online dating more than I hate pickles, which is a lot, which is why I don’t do it anymore. It just doesn’t jive with me. If this decreases my “odds,” so be it.
  • I can’t understand why you’re single. While I know this is usually meant as an encouragement, it insinuates that there must be a “reason” I’m single. What if there’s no reason, except that I am? I can’t give a reason.
  • You should enjoy this time. I am enjoying this time. I am traveling, spending and giving money the way I deem best, investing in friends both male and female, pursuing some passions, learning, moving where and when I want to, and reveling in the delicious silence of living alone. Silence is a gift. Someday when babies are screaming and – God forbid – Caillou is blaring, I will shoot up my veins with the stored silence of these quiet days. I am taking full advantage of this relatively uncomplicated life and living well, as best as I know how.
  • You’re just too intimidating. I can’t tell if that’s an insult or a compliment, but either way, I am drawn to men with guts.
  • Here’s a rough one: Pity.
  • And finally, my favorite flurry of contradictions: You should flirt. You should play hard to get. Stop being picky. Keep your standards high. Look for a guy at church. Look for a guy at a bar. Look for a guy on the top of a mountain. Put yourself out there. Just pray about it. Try harder. Just stop trying.

May I gently suggest some alternative things to say to a friend who happens to be single and hopes to someday not be?

  • I think you’re a catch. That is, if you really do think that. If the person is a schmuck, well, I suppose you’re allowed to say that too.
  • I’m sorry that this feels hard today. Regardless of one’s relationship status, I think we can all agree that some days are great and some days suck.
  • I am so hopeful. This one is especially good when the other person is tired of hoping. I’ve found it really nice to occasionally let someone else carry the hope for me, like a really huge backpack, until I know I can take it back.
  • You’re doing a good job. Period.

These days, I can honestly say that most of the time, being single doesn’t make me sad – because in so many ways, I love it! Even when I experience false starts. When the guy I’d been on three dates with and decided that I really liked texted me when I was at Home Depot to say he thought we should just be friends, or another guy called me before a first date to tell me that God had told him not to take me out (?), or even in the wake of a recent romantic bummer, I’m bouncing back and living forward – which is the healthiest thing to do, no matter if one is single, dating, or married.

We can’t always date who we want. We can’t engineer our lives to manipulate our futures. We can’t speed up time, and we can’t predict what’s going to happen next. We can’t control another person. We can’t “If You Build It, They Will Come” love – unless you are building a brewery.

But we can still choose to be happy. And I’m getting pretty good at the choosing.

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“Nothing can be necessary that he withholds”

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Last Friday, I listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989 for the entire 9-hour drive from Denver to Kansas City. Collectively my favorite record I’ve heard in ages, it just might have the power to pull me out of athletic retirement and train for another half marathon. Running would probably be good for me, seeing as how these days I’m wound as tight as a guitar string one pluck away from snapping up and whipping you in the eyeball.

In the past month, I’ve been in a lot of airports – Denver, Minneapolis, Austin, Atlanta, Kansas City, Chicago, Rochester, and Baltimore, to be exact. Between work and my far-flung family and friends, I travel more than the average person – and I’ve found that the only way I can survive the aggravation of airline travel is to wear earplugs at all times. Not ear buds – I don’t want music. No, I want to drown out everyone and everything, even at the risk of appearing rude to my fellow passengers. Oh, you just introduced yourself? UNACKNOWLEDGED. You’ll get over it one day.

But despite the irritation, airplanes get me where I want to go – which, this weekend, was upstate New York for 24 hours. While I’ve been a bridesmaid more times than I have fingers, “godparent” is a new role for me – and there was no way I was going to miss Colin’s baptism. He is 6 months of chubby, flirtatious perfection, and I’m honored beyond words that his parents would choose me.

Colin1

When the service was over and the reception was in full swing, I stole away to the edge of Will and Miranda’s dock on Seneca Lake. Their property is beautiful – it’s been in Will’s family for generations – and I needed to be by the water. At the risk of sounding all woo-woo, water affects me spiritually. It cracks my hard heart wide open. It’s a shame that Denver is so landlocked.

There on the dock, I thought about the stories that the majority of my friends are living, and how different mine is turning out to be. I tried to tell myself that it’s okay, I’m okay, that not having a family of my own is actually far less complicated and I should be happy for the simplicity of my little life. After all, as some well-meaning friends have told me, it’s dangerous to love someone so deeply – because then you have so much to lose.

Well. I’ve never been divorced. But I’ve never been married. I have never lost a child. But I’ve never had a baby. Hope unrealized brings with it its own invisible grief, one that doesn’t fit into an obvious category, the kind that solicits cards and casseroles. Could it be that things that haven’t happened can hurt as badly as things that could?

Because it’s one thing for all of your friends to get married. It’s another when they start having kids. It’s entirely another when they decide to be finished having kids… and you’re not sure if you’ll even start.

I know, cue the sob fest and the weeping ovaries. Except.

Here’s what I’m discovering: joy is found in connection, and connection comes in all sorts of forms. I might not be a wife, but I’m a friend who can and will hop on a plane at a moment’s notice to fly across the country. I might not be a mom, but I’m an auntie, and a dog lover, and now a godmother. I’m a daughter and a sister. I’m a hard worker who cares about the well-being of the people I work with. I’m a writer and a wanderer and a hoper and a dreamer, and damn it, I want to be one who celebrates the things worth celebrating, even if they’re not happening to me.

And until those celebrations are my own, I’m clinging to John Newton’s words: “Everything is necessary that [God] sends; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Given that, I’m really thankful that God has sent Foxy Brains and Colin Warder and Southwest Airlines and red wine and Taylor Swift.

Ending well

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

When I wrote this, I thought I was writing just for me. But today, I kind of want to share it.

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For some time now, I have been in… a relationship? Perhaps not the right word.

Something special. Something that burned fast and bright, like a bottle rocket — but after a short time, burned right out and fell from the sky. Something that, like so many beautiful things, was fleeting.

While the ending of it was sad, our parting conversation was honest, warmhearted, and generous — to an eavesdropper with no context, we may have seemed enamored. We expressed care and respect for one another, demanding nothing in return, gracefully letting each other go.

I have never experienced such a healthy goodbye with a man.

We successfully cared for, and received care from, each other. We successfully opened our hearts and dropped our defenses. We successfully took a risk. And in the end, for legitimate reasons, we successfully walked away, shoulders back and selves intact.

For me, this is a victory. Just because it hurt did not mean that I was losing — the hurt actually meant that I WON. It meant that I had allowed someone in — something that I find difficult to do.

I experienced a relationship ending well — and it’s one of the most radical things I have ever done.

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There are few things in life as wonderful as a good man.

Take heart. They do exist.

Heroes and imperfections

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I promise to not make this blog into one never-ending series called “What I’m Reading – and So Should You!”  But – sue me, people – I’m reading a lot right now.  And unless you want to hear about my dream last night (I killed a wild hog), then thank your lucky stars that it’s a post about a book.

At the suggestion of my cutie friend Carrie Cohen (SHOUT OUT), I’m currently reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein.  The narrator (who happens to be a dog – stay with me) gives an account of the family that he lives with, all the while waxing poetic about life, philosophy, and race car driving – which he has learned a great deal about from his master.  Maybe it’s a silly idea, allowing a dog to narrate, but so far, it’s a fun shift of perspective.

Here’s one of my favorite passages – and yes, this is the dog thinking:

“The true hero is flawed.  The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.  A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.  Which is also why Michael Schumacher, clearly one of the most gifted Formula One drivers of all time, winner of more races, winner of more championships, holder of more pole positions than any other driver in Formula One history, is often left off of the race fan’s list of favorite champions.  He is unlike Ayrton Senna, who often employed the same devious and daring tactics as Schumacher, but did so with a wink and therefore was called charismatic and emotional rather than what they call Schumacher: remote and unapproachable.  Schumacher has no flaws.  He has the best car, the best-financed team, the best tires, the most skill.  Who can rejoice in his wins?  The sun rises every day.  What is to love?  Lock the sun in a box.  Force the sun to overcome adversity in order to rise.  Then we will cheer!”

Hilarious that Stein attributes thoughts like these to a mere mongrel of a dog – but also, a little bit poignant.  Because if we’re honest, even – and maybe especially – in our simplest moments, don’t we feel the exact same way?

Perfection is boring – and so it’s interesting to me that we often expect the people around us to be perfect.  Why do we insist on something other than just real life with others?  If we’re honest, wouldn’t we rather experience someone’s flaws – with the hope and expectation that they just might triumph over their shortcomings?  Wouldn’t we love to be a part of that?

Wouldn’t we love for others to give us that chance?

Wouldn’t we love to give ourselves that chance?

Let’s talk about:

Monday, November 16th, 2009

The comments that you left in response to Thursday’s blog
I was blown away by a couple of things: 1) the TRUTH that was so evident in so much of what you were saying, and 2) the HONESTY about something that isn’t easily summed up in a cliché phrase.  I love that so many of you felt free to share a glimpse into your own stories and experiences with that curious thing called Love.

For the record, I am in agreement with many of you: I don’t believe in “The One”; rather, I think that I will wind up with “A One.”  If I believed in “The One,” I would have married JC Chasez when I was 15.

And on a personal note, I loved it when Casey said, “You ‘know’ when your introvertedness doesn’t mind sharing your space with that person.”  I’m pretty sure that in my case, that will be the flashing marquee sign telling me to go to Vegas RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Lord of the Rings
Last week, my roommate Julie told me that she had never read nor seen “Lord of the Rings.”  I think that I shrieked, “WHAT??!?” and then fell down dead.  But after the disbelief came action, and we watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” and “The Two Towers” this weekend.

Have you ever had the chance to watch something epic – something that has changed your own life, something that has become an essential piece of how you view the world – affect someone else for the first time?  It was so, so fun – and I think that Julie is hooked, even though she kept calling Strider “Striker.”

Micah’s 6th birthday

Yesterday, my nephew Micah turned 6.  I saw him last week, and when I asked him about his upcoming birthday, he said, “I can’t wait to turn 6!  When you are 6, you can do SUCH FUN THINGS – like a cartwheel and lose a tooth!”

And my cynical, disillusioned heart melted into a puddle.

Please tell me.

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

You know how some married people, when asked, “How did you know he/she was the right one?” answer, “I just knew”?

What does that MEAN?  What are they (you?) referring to?  And should single people be holding for it – whatever it is?

Or is it just a completely bogus statement, fabricated to placate the general relationship-befuddlement that seems to expand and swell the further we get from college?

I’m curious.

Keepers

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

If eyes cleansed with tears see the most clearly, then today, I have perfect vision.

Sometimes, I think that I’ve gotten really good at confessing my tiny faults in hopes that no one will ever suspect nor discover the big ones.  But lately, I’m not very good at hiding them – and as a result, have been pummeled with my rather large, rather imperfect, imperfections.

I guess that’s bound to happen when you exist in relationship with other humans.

We are messy creatures.  I am a messy creature.

And sometimes, it brings a lot of tears.

But I’m learning that the people who stay – the ones who don’t run away when the going gets tough, the ones who listen without trying to fix, the ones who forgive ugly words and flat-lined attitudes and the same old shit that you carry around no matter how your life changes or morphs or moves – are worth anything and everything it takes.

Communication.  Honesty.  Vulnerability.  Compromise.  Effort.  Forgiveness.

I am learning a lot.  And I don’t call them my “starter husbands” for nothing.

– – – – – – – –

My friend Heather (SHOUT OUT) recently told me that this blog is the only “Dear Diary” blog that doesn’t make her want to vomit.  Well, that kind of made me want to vomit, because wait – I don’t write a “Dear Diary” blog, do I?

Who am I kidding.

Enough about my feelings.  I’m changing the subject.

I woke up this morning with 7 spider bites on my thigh, abdomen, and armpit.

I never go to movies, but all of a sudden, I want to see a ton: “Away We Go,” “Harry Potter,” “Where the Wild Things Are,” “Julie and Julia,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife” (you know during the preview where he says, “You have a choice,” and she says, “I never had a choice”?  I LOSE MY MIND), and “500 Days of Summer.”

I wish I had a cute lunch bag.

In response

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Hearken back to Monday’s post.  What was meant to be a shoulder shrug, a lark, a lighthearted jab at my pal Andy, actually sparked quite the response.  While I got a lot of “You go, girl!” comments from women, I have been much more impacted by what I have heard from the men – whether in comment, email, or response via their own blog post.  And while there is no way that I will be able to say everything that there is to say today (yeah, or ever), here is what has been rattling around in my brain this week.

If there is anything that I want to be, it is humble – humble, and teachable.  So THANK YOU to the brave dudes (especially Joey – the catalyst for many of these thoughts today) who had the guts – spine – balls – to challenge my thinking.

Which brings me to my first point: it was wrong of me to emasculate men – denying them of the very thing that makes them male (um… balls… sheesh, I can’t wait to see what keywords bring people to this post) – for not being able to communicate in the way that most women would like them to.  I am not a man-hater – I LOVE men! – and in no way desire to make eunuchs out of a bunch of surely well-meaning guys.  I’m sorry for sounding – snip, snip – harsh and judgmental.

Here’s the deal: in an ideal world, men would communicate clearly.  In an ideal world, women would communicate clearly.  In an ideal world, both sexes would have eyes to see and ears to hear the other person loud and clear.

That is obviously not the world that we live in – due to culture and socialization and upbringing and experiences.  So things get a little bit muddy, a little bit complicated, and sometimes, a little bit… hostile.  Men aren’t up front with their feelings.  Women send mixed signals – a “come hither” straight into a stiff arm.  One person doesn’t know who he is, the other doesn’t know what she wants – or vice versa.  Television only adds to the confusion, portraying men as bumbling idiots, and women as capable-yet-snarky ice queens (think “Everybody Loves Raymond,” or “Home Improvement”).

Who are we?  Who should we be?  Men and women alike are confuzzled.

I so wish that was a real word.

When it comes to love, we’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all been disappointed.  We’ve all got skeletons in the closet, and wounds that haven’t quite healed.  And for as much as we want them, it’s easy to make the opposite sex into the “enemy.”  I have my own stories – things that have happened that have made me a bit gun-shy when it comes to putting myself out there – and when I think of these disgraces, even years later, I still want to bury my head in the sand.

I think it’s safe to say that on a very fundamental level, women want to feel “worth it” to a guy – worth the risk, worth whatever it takes.  But hello – this is 2009.  A man can’t exactly prove his devotion by riding into battle with her hanky in his pocket.  So some of us feel like the least he could do is say, “Hey, you seem great.  I’d love to take you out sometime?”

Then again, the feminist movement sort of threw a wrench in that plan.  We women-folk sure asserted our independence, didn’t we?  Dang it.  We’ve stabbed ourselves in the back.  But that’s another post entirely…

Bottom line: I am backing off from the stance I took on Monday, however playfully I meant it when I first wrote it.  I don’t expect for a guy to take the reins, run the show, ask me out, sweep me off my feet, order me the lamb chop at some swanky restaurant while I sit mute and adoring.  Can you imagine?  Me?  Being conquered?  I do hope for a partnership, with honest and frank communication, equal parts respect and affection – and prior to a relationship, I think that means that both parties are going to need to communicate our interest in whatever way makes sense.

Sigh.  This just zapped every ounce of brain power I possess.

We all just want to matter to someone.

I wish it was easy.  And I hope that one day, it will be.