Friday, July 1, 2016

Stay "Cool"!

There are few concepts that have impacted me as greatly as the "ScreamFree" approach to human interaction. (“Screaming” refers to any unproductive way that a person may emotionally react to a situation, typically out of fear and self-preservation.) I first read this book years ago while I was gasping for breath in an unhealthy marriage. It did not, ultimately, "save" that marriage - we ended up getting a divorce. But I'm not entirely convinced that remaining in a miserable and unhealthy union was the goal of the lesson (and accompanying therapy) anyway. What it did actually end up doing was save ME.

It helped me discover who I was and who I wanted to become. It helped me determine what is important to me and how to own those things. Most importantly, it helped me learn to take full responsibility for myself and zero responsibility for another - not his thoughts, not his feelings, not his actions. I couldn't control him, and he couldn’t control me. (This universal approach applies to every human in my life. And yours.) I can't make excuses like, "He made me so mad that I...", because I realized that I'm the only one in control of me, and I fully own that responsibility. I also stopped feeling pressure to "keep him happy," because I realized that his attitude was not dependent upon me. As I boldly took back ownership of my adulthood, I simultaneously resigned the responsibility of maintaining his control and maturity on his behalf.

To you, these concepts may either seem like common sense or completely foreign. But I tell ya, when I was first introduced to the Scream Free approach in 2010, it was nothing short of revolutionary. I had a complete paradigm shift regarding relationship dynamics with every person I interacted with. It was so freeing! The book quite literally changed my life... (Obviously, I highly recommend it. There’s much more to it than I can expound upon here.)

In the years since then, the principles have sunk deeper into my psyche, shaping my entire worldview. When I eventually felt ready to enter into a new partnership, I insisted that the foundation of the relationship must be Scream Free. Thankfully, my new boyfriend was on board from the get go. He, too, was seeking a mature, healthy relationship and was eager to achieve that however possible. He read this book and internalized the concepts from the very beginning, and the terms and phrases have become so basic to our communication style that it’s sometimes hard to remember they originated from these pages.

All of this background led to my extreme excitement to meet the author, Hal Runkel, at a free speaking engagement yesterday. I had the chance to personally share with him how meaningful the material is to me and of how profoundly it has impacted my life. And we, as a couple, were able to express to him how thankful we are for the opportunity to embark on a new, healthy relationship with one another, atop these principles. He, in turn, autographed our copy of the book, and encouraged us to forever keep our “cool,” even when life gets complicated and we feel the urge to "scream.”

I’m so proud of who I’ve independently grown into, and I’m thrilled to be coupling that independent strength with a person who CHOOSES (but doesn’t NEED) to stand by my side on top of a very firm Scream Free foundation. 

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New years don't always have to be new starts

A year ago, today, I was baptized in confetti, surrounded by a million other like-minded crazy people willing to stand for 12 hours in a pen with no food, drink, or potty breaks to count down the Ball Drop in Times Square. 

The year prior to that day had been a rough one, and I was anxious to close it tight and start over. Actually, multiple years prior had each been rough, and every New Year's Eve presented the strong desire to start anew with the idea that "maybe this year would finally be the year!" I'd look back on the concluding year with sadness of unrealized dreams. Dreams of a child, or of a pregnancy, or of a healed marriage. 

When midnight rolled around, nonchalantly tick-tocking the transition from one year to the next, I'd tearfully lament the the previous year's disappointments. After 12 months of desperately clinging to hopes the year once held, I'd reluctantly lay them down and rush toward the future with renewed resolve to keep the faith, relishing the opportunity to escape the heartache of the previous year and start over with a clean slate, unblemished with pain.

This year, however, has turned out to be a really good one. I deliberately kicked it off in New York City, the best way I could possibly imagine, because I was determined to not have another disappointing year filled with heartbreak that I couldn't control. I maintained that conviction throughout the months that followed, and I've intentionally pursued growth and healing in every aspect of my life. I actively strove to become more independently healthy. And ya know what? I feel really positive about the progress and accomplishments I was able to achieve within the calendar's time span.

For the first time in about as long as I can remember, I'm closing out a year with satisfaction rather than frustration. I'm not anxious to escape the past as I run headlong into the future of hopes and dreams. I can look back on 2015 with pride and happily wrap a final bow on this year of discovering fuller potential of who I can be. I'm feeling the drastic difference between a fond farewell to times gone by and a good riddance to resented circumstances and experiences.

The year that began in Times Square has certainly not been an easy one. I have endured multiple growing pains while adjusting to a new, independent life post-marriage. But it's all been productive, beneficial, hard-fought, and earned with integrity. None of it has been a waste of time.

In 2016, I'm not searching for a fresh beginning to start all over from scratch. I worked hard for this progress, and I'm not keen to wipe the foundation away. Instead, I'm pleased to simply maintain and develop further what I've already been doing over the past several months. For the first time, I'm proud to claim the stories I acquired in 2015, rather than erase them and start over. I'm confidently walking into a new year with a lot of experience, knowledge, and capability in tow.

I don't feel the need to utilize a "do over." For once, I'm looking forward to finally appreciating a "keep going like you're doing."

That's a pretty nice feeling. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Solo Sunsets Are Still Beautiful

I often journal for my own personal benefit. I sit down with my laptop and ramble a stream of consciousness while I process through my thoughts and emotions with little coherence. I don’t originally intend for it to ever be made public, so I’m not composing it in a particularly literary form. However, sometimes I wonder if there are other people who share similar thoughts. In an effort to cultivate an environment of transparency and openness, I’ve decided to share this particular entry to publicly acknowledge my "not so pretty" side, and to also open the doors of communication to anyone else who may be able to relate. 

So a fair warning: in addition to being somewhat incoherent and rambling, it’s also kind of a pity party that doesn’t end with a big call to action of encouragement and hope. Sorry. But let’s be honest; a lot of my daily contemplations don’t always end with optimism. Again: that’s the realness exposed from my personal journal entries... I hope you don't mind. And I hope you're able to follow the trail of thought. Welcome to the inside of my head. :)

If you experience something, but don’t have anyone to share it with, is it still real?

The obvious answer is, of course, yes. But then why does it feel so lonely to watch a sunset by myself? I’m compelled to share it with someone. I want to take pictures and send them to my friends or post them online. I want to share the experience with someone else. I want another person to somehow validate the experience itself, as well as my existence within that experience.

That doesn’t make sense. I know better. I know I’m a whole human being all on my own. I want to rely on God, alone, to validate my self-worth. I shouldn’t depend on another human to authenticate my thoughts, feelings, or experiences as genuine.

I know it all in my head. But it still sucks to live my life solo a lot of the time.

I miss it. I miss having a person to share my everyday with. The mundane. The silly. The nobody-cares-but-you. The big and the little. I miss giving and receiving continuous updates of days and feelings and life in general. Things happen, now, and no one knows. Unless I decide to post it on social media like the attention seeking, insecure person that I really am, but don’t want to acknowledge. Or unless I randomly text a friend out of the blue. But when it comes down to it, nobody cares. Nobody is interested. Nobody is wondering how my day went or what I had for dinner. Nobody is curious of how I spend my time or how various trivial situations are going.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that many people care about me as a person. They care about my well being, health, and happiness. If I ever volunteer a story to a person in my life, they’re generally interested in what I have to say. But it’s just not the same. It’s not the same as a text in the middle of the afternoon asking how my day is going. Or ending the night by asking for a recap of all of the mundane details of my day. Or following up to see how a meeting went or time with friends or even a basic lawn mow. It’s not necessarily that people don’t care about these things; it’s more that there’s no person in my life (besides my awesome mama) who even knows about the minutiae of my daily grind. There’s no one so deeply involved in my every day that I can even share those kinds of details with.

I miss it. I miss having a person who is genuinely interested in my life. And even more, a person who is equally vested in that life. A person who sincerely has something to gain or lose based on the outcome of decisions and circumstances. And I miss being involved in someone else’s world and being welcomed and invited to invest my attention and energy into them. 

I miss the "good mornings" and the "good nights."

It’s hard sometimes, and it’s oftentimes lonely. I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to be an obnoxious friend or a needy person in general, but I can’t deny how nice it would be to have a constant companion in my life. And as much as I adore my dog, I’d prefer a companion who has actual thoughts I can hear and literal words with which to discuss things, not to mention hands to hold and arms to envelope me as I collapse into an open and comfortable embrace.

I hesitate to say all this. I don’t want to appear desperate. I don’t want to pretend like I’m not complete on my own. I know better. I know I’m a whole person all by myself, and I don’t need any other person to complete me in any way. I don’t want to come off as pitiful or perpetuate the false idea that a person isn’t complete without a partner. I actually feel very strongly about defending independence and individuality. I’ll preach about it on a rather high horse to anyone who will listen to me. But today, on a boring Saturday of too much Netflix and a mute sunset, I’m sad. I’m just sad.

Somehow it all feels so worthless.

I know that’s not true... I contradict every emotion I have with logic and intellect. In my head, I know that life still has meaning and purpose even without anyone around to witness it. But tonight, it just doesn’t feel that way.

What does that mean? Does that mean I have more to work on in myself? Does that mean, even more, that I shouldn’t pursue any sort of relationship, because I’m not yet content on my own? Or does that mean that I’m finally starting to be ready to pursue one, because the longing is beginning to steadily grow?
For a couple of weeks, I tasted it again. I liked this guy, and we spent quite a bit of time together and talked nonstop from morning's alarm to light's out. A true relationship between us wasn't possible due to various complications of time and space beyond any control of our own, so it had to end sooner rather than later. Which means our above-average friendship and extreme involvement in each other’s daily lives could only last a fortnight, before we had to be wise about the situation and consciously resist investing in something that could never truly amount to anything substantial. Sometimes, being responsible is simply the worst.

But what it did do was remind me of how much I miss it. And how great it really can be to share my constant life with someone. And, boy, do I ever miss it. And wow, can it really be great.

Was it a good thing to have that quick experience of emotional intimacy? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know. It sure did feel great while it lasted. But it also uncovered some truths that I was kind of happy to leave hidden away. I had rather convinced myself that I was fine on my own and didn’t ever need to share my life with another person again. I believed I didn’t miss it or want it. But I was wrong. On both accounts.

So after only two weeks of having someone involved in the intricacies of my world, here I am again trying to readjust to life alone. How did I get so accustomed to a companion so quickly? It took no time at all to fit right back into that wonderful dynamic. It was so nice and natural and comforting and fun. It had taken me months to learn how to be on my own, and only a couple quick days of constant texting to relish in the companionship again. It makes me so nervous.

And now here I am. Watching the sunset alone and not sending a photo to anyone. 

So did the sunset still happen?

Of course it did. Obviously. But why does it feel so much cheaper, somehow, because nobody else experienced it with me. That doesn’t even make sense. Ugh.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recognizing the New Me

Throughout the past several months since my husband left, I’ve had to start afresh in multiple areas of my life. For a long while, it felt like every place I found myself, every decision with which I was faced, and every experience I encountered was uncharted territory. I had no idea what I was doing in nearly every aspect of this new, single life. My world seemed to be a haphazard experiment in which I was constantly clearing fresh paths from chaos with little more than guess work while hoping for the best.

Somehow, though, I have actually managed to accomplish quite a bit. I’m very proud of many recent victories, and I’d like to eventually share some specifics on this blog. But until then, just know that I spent many moons lost, gingerly feeling my way through unfamiliar lands in the dark.

And then a year passed.

I fervently longed for that magical time warp, constantly thinking, “I can’t wait until a year has passed, so this won’t be the first time, anymore.” I wished I had already approached and conquered it all at least once before; then I could have easily known how to handle it again. Every new first time was so overwhelming, stressful, scary, and sad. There was the first Super Bowl without my husband to eat my chili-cheese dip; would I still make it? (Yes. I liked it, too. But I cried.) There was the first renewal of my zoo membership without my hubs to hold my hand as we strolled toward the elephants; would I still carry the pass? (Nope. Not as fun to go alone. So I cried.) There was the first Grammy Awards show without my best friend to enjoy the music performances with; would I still watch it? (Yes, but with a different, female friend. And she let me cry.) There was the first spring season without the man of the house to tackle the landscaping; would I still plant flowers? (Yes. I loved having them, and they made me so happy, that I don’t even think I cried.) And on and on and on.

Discovering what life looks like when I can’t depend on a partner, as well as who I am as an individual woman has been a difficult process. I’ve had to learn how to handle a budget and prioritize purchases on my own. I’ve had to figure out how to accurately operate a weed eater with my short stature. I’ve had to ask a friend how to replace the dead crape myrtle in my front yard. Among many.other.things.

But I successfully mastered all of these things, y’all! And more. I was determined to grow independent and prove to myself that I could survive on my own. I was frequently scared, overwhelmed, and stressed. I cried often. Like, for real, often. But I continued to trudge through the muck into my New Normal. Every day felt like a strenuous journey. Every week was a maze navigated alone. I learned a lot about myself as I discovered parts of me I had never realized were present. I gradually carved a new, independent version of Mindy out of the blob left behind by stupid divorce. I don’t necessarily regret or begrudge this experience; it has been and will continue to be very beneficial for me. But it's certainly an exhausting challenge, and I didn’t feel like there would ever be any relief from the effort it took to survive and to settle into this new, single version of myself that I never dreamed of or desired.

But then that first year finally passed, and spring came again. I entered into this new weather season for the second time with greater confidence. Thanks to the tests and practice of the previous year, I now trusted myself and my capabilities. I knew better what to expect from my yard. I was adept at mowing the grass. I had come to terms with weed eating enough to realize I needed to purchase a lighter trimmer that features a neck with an adjustable height. (Did you know they make those!?) And I knew how to plant flowers on my porch. I had done it all before.

The porch flowers. Those were the things that made me feel at home in my life for the first time in over a year. They were the first time I actually recognized the New Me. They were finally something familiar after the rebuilding had begun.

Last year, the flowers were a big decision. My husband’s absence was still counted in days and weeks instead of months or years. When flowering time came around, I was still dying and gasping for breath. I was drowning in sadness and suffocating under heavy darkness. I was terrified; I was hurting; and I was broke. I had done nothing at all except survive since the day he walked out the door. If something was voluntary or “extra,” I didn’t do it. I didn’t have the energy, strength, confidence, skills, or finances to do anything that was not completely essential to make it through to the next day.

But it grew warmer outside, and my heart broke to not have pretty flowers on my porch. I missed my spouse, and I also missed the flowers he physically and financially provided my house every spring. I was tired of having to miss everything. It felt like my whole life was in a constant state of painful longing and heartbreak.

I wanted the flowers, but I didn’t know how to plant them. I wanted them, but I didn’t know which ones would work in the area. I wanted them, but I didn’t think I could afford them or fit them into my rudimentary budget. I wanted the flowers, but they were extra, a luxury that wasn’t required for my daily survival. I wanted the flowers, but accepting the truth of the situation was painful.

But damn it all, I wanted the flowers.

I didn’t have any control over whether or not my husband was in my life, but I did have control over whether or not my porch was bare, and I ultimately decided I would have none of that! Living without him didn’t mean I had to also live without all of the things he did that made me happy.

So I got them. On my own. By myself.

And it was empowering.

I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I spent hours at the Lowe’s gardening center comparing colors, sun exposure, growing habits, and prices. I asked employees tons of basic questions. I shopped at Dollar General for pots, potting soil, and coco liners for my hanging baskets in an effort to stretch my budget.

And then I brought it all home and guessed. I didn’t have any practice. This was something my husband always did. But I wung it. And I must have succeeded, because they all lived and bloomed for many months.

I know that to many, this is so simple that it seems silly. And I get that. That’s fair. But for me, this was massive. It was the first time I voluntarily ventured out in pursuit of personal joy. I didn’t wait around for someone else to satisfy me or provide permission or consent. I independently decided the pleasures that flowers provided my life were worth the money, effort, and challenge. That I was worth it. This was the first time I made my happiness a priority, even though it didn’t benefit anyone but me. And in doing so, I claimed a part of my power and defined an edge of my identity. It was a big deal, and it felt good.

2014 Spring Flowers
I enjoyed those flowers all spring and summer and well into the autumn of 2014. I lovingly nurtured them by watering, rotating, and pruning them regularly. I invested my time, energy, and heart into my beautiful, blooming plants. All the while, I was solidifying aspects of my personhood. I was settling into the New Mindy right there on my front porch.

As winter 2015 faded, there was no question of whether or not I would plant flowers on my porch. Of course I would. This time, I didn’t have to wonder if I was the type of person who planted flowers to welcome spring, because I had already decided that about myself the preceding year. This was one of the first situations I came across where I could easily rely on my previous experience rather than having to start from scratch in the decision making process of who I was. It was such a relief.

My dad was visiting over Easter weekend, and knowing how important my flowers are to me, he volunteered to cover their cost, which was a massive blessing from the beginning. Since I didn’t have to stress about the strain they put on my budget, I could simply enjoy the ceremony of welcoming the new season and beautifying my porch. And even though I had done it before, this year, I still spent hours in the Lowe’s gardening center comparing colors, sun exposure, growing habits, and prices. However, this time I wasn’t stressed or anxious. I didn’t beat myself up for being such an idiot and not knowing what I was doing. I didn’t feel out of my league or overwhelmed. I wasn’t lost or in over my head. I had confidence in myself, understanding that this was simply my process. Some other people may do it quicker or be more certain going in, but this is how I pick out my flowers. And that’s okay. I knew that whatever I picked would become the backdrop for my entire summer, and I wanted to choose wisely. I was able to rest in that detail of my identity. (Thankfully, my dad was very patient with me.)

Once we brought the budding plants home, I slipped into my gardening gloves, dove into the dirt, and joyfully repotted all of them. I put each in its respective place across the entire front porch area and one on the back patio (to be enjoyed when I let my pup outside), admired my handiwork, and felt great about accomplishing a task I love. That was that. I was proud of a job well done. The end.

2015 Spring - back patio flowers and front door
However, unbeknownst to me at the time, my favorite part wouldn’t come until a couple days later when I would go out front to revisit and water all of my new blooms for the first time since potting them. Early in the morning, I knowingly filled the watering can at the spigot near my porch like I had done so many times the year before. And as I filled each plant with water, my heart simultaneously filled up with some sort of emotional nourishment. By the time I was climbing my step ladder to reach the hanging plants (yes, I’m that short), I noticed something happening inside of me that I couldn’t pinpoint but immediately welcomed. I was content. I was fulfilled. I was at peace. I was at home.

2015 Spring
After I watered the last colorful plant, I sat down on my rocking chair and curiously ventured deeper into the experience. What sensation was I feeling? What was it about watering my porch plants that made me feel so satisfied? I sat in the emotion, embraced the feeling, and explored it in my heart and mind.

And then it hit me: This was familiar. This activity. This action. This scenario. This chore done in love. This environment which brings me joy. This situation. This person that loves to care for flowers on her porch. This Mindy.
2015 Spring

For the first time, the New Me was familiar. I recognized her. I had seen her before. I had come to know her last spring. This familiarity of myself was so comforting.

I was finally starting to find myself. To identify myself. I was no longer searching in the dark and hoping for the best to come out of guess work and trial-and-error. This was me. This was the New Me. And for the very first time, the New Me wasn’t new. It was tried and true. Tested and proved. This was me.

This is me.
2015 Spring
After more than a year of searching to find myself in the mess of disaster, loss, grief, fear, and wreckage, I finally stumbled back upon something I knew to be true about myself. I am a woman who gains much joy from the beauty of her surroundings. I am a woman who greatly appreciates feeling God’s presence in nature. I am a woman who will actively pursue this pleasure and peace. I am a woman who plants and maintains a ridiculous amount of beautiful flowers on her porch. It’s only a small aspect of my identity, but it’s a certain one. Finally. And for someone who hasn’t known herself in a very long time and has been diligently searching to find herself, this first familiarity of my true self was monumental.

That morning after I watered 2015’s spring plants for the first time, I cried tears of happiness, as if I was visiting an old friend after years apart. I was so glad to finally see myself again. It had been so long just wandering around in the dark searching for me. And then, all of the sudden, spring came along and brought with it New Mindy, who was finally, finally, just Mindy.

Oh, that feels good. Let me just sit here in this for a moment… *deep breaths soaking it in while tears form in my eyes* #writingtrulyismytherapy
My beautiful house, Spring 2015

I’m looking forward to more of 2015, which I pray will present more familiarity of my New Normal. I’m continuing to identify aspects of my personhood and further define my identity as an individual.

My porch flowers were the first reassurance that I’m doing okay. I’m going to make it. I’m a real person. I’m a whole human being. I have actual characteristics and qualities that make me me, and I’m not just a shadow. I’ve survived a horrible year of pain and breaking and rebuilding from pieces, and I haven’t died. I’ve come back around to things I’ve experienced on this side of the fracture. I’m starting to think maybe there is life to be had on this side of the break, too.

And it seems as though the Mindy who exists on this side is a woman who will welcome every spring by spending hours in the Lowe’s gardening center and then intentionally filling her life with beauty and joy.

I think I might like this Mindy.

Monday, April 27, 2015

God paints His best masterpieces with clouds

I frequently find myself absolutely enamored by the sky. 

The beauty of God's artwork often holds my heart captive. I'll plaster my face to a window, crane my neck in the car, or sprint outside to the street, and then take somewhere around 45 successive photos as the appearance of the heavens gradually transitions. I'll blink away tears of awe as I stare in wonder for ridiculously long moments at a time. 

(For real. I'm extremely annoying to the people around me during these events. I make zero eye-contact during discussions and glue my gaze upward, determined not to miss a single second of the momentary beauty while it lasts.)

I find it such an honor to so freely witness God’s majesty. He makes His glory so readily available to us on a regular basis. I've observed a sunrise or sunset from start to finish in the short span of only a few minutes. If God can create something so amazing that is so fleeting, what more can His power do in my life? 

These have been my thoughts for years. Every sunrise. Every sunset. Hello, God. Good morning. I love you, too. Good night, God. I see you. I love you, too. You are powerful and wonderful. Thank you for demonstrating your love to me in this obvious and overwhelming way. I know You love me. I love you, too.

The other night, while I was sitting in my car on the side of the road to fully appreciate the majesty of the sun going down without causing a traffic accident (You're welcome, Nashville.), I was praising God for making His presence known to me when I verbally thanked Him for the clouds that were able to provide such a lovely canvas to display His masterpiece. It was this one, by the way:

And then I stopped short. Did I mean that? Did I really mean what I had just said? Was I genuinely thankful for the clouds in my life? Surely not. Clouds (both literal and metaphorical) are bad. Clouds block the sun. Clouds bring with them dark days and coldness and rain. Clouds are always unwelcome. They ruin plans and wreak havoc. Nobody ever wants the clouds. Nobody ever asks for the clouds. Nobody is ever thankful for the clouds. 

Are they?

Am I?

Then I realized that maybe I am. I started to pay attention to moments when the heavens most deeply touched my soul and spoke to my heart. I went back and looked through old photos of the sky I had taken over the years. I discovered they all had one thing in common: Clouds.

It’s on the clouds where God paints His best pieces. Yes, the clear skies (and calm times) are nice and enjoyable during the days free of rain and full of sunshine. You can see God’s light shining bright with no obstruction, and we’re able to enjoy His peace with no distraction. Our lives are smooth and uncomplicated.

But it’s on the clouds reflecting the sun where He displays the most glorious demonstrations of His love. It requires the existence of life's complications to fully witness God's heart for us.

Those same clouds that we curse for interrupting our smooth lives; the same clouds that temporarily block the sunshine; the same clouds that we wish would hurry and pass, while we’re frustratedly striving to bask in the warmth of His presence...

Those are the same clouds, that at the end of the day, God is able to demonstrate His most beautiful handiwork.

They add texture and dimension to His reflection. They tell a story. They tell His story. They tell our story.

Without those clouds that we love to hate, we get a rather dull sunset. There’s no blaring story in the sky as those days draw to a close. There's no portrait of His presence. There's no captivating image of His glory. There's no evidence of what He's helped us endure and overcome.

(The previous view from my front porch at the end of a beautifully sunny day is the first photo of a cloudless sky I can ever remember taking, and I only did so recently, after I had begun exploring the merits of cloudy vs. clear skies.)

Furthermore, the nights with the thickest clouds provide the most dense display of his presence. Those times in our lives when we truly feel that we can't even catch a glimpse of God's light through the muck hovering over us, allow Him the opportunity to exhibit His love in the most radiant fashion.

The following photo was taken on a specific evening of exceptional darkness in my life. I distinctly recall needing to feel His presence so desperately that I literally cried in anguish when I concluded that the very overcast sky would hinder His comforting and familiar display of love that night. My, how wrong I was. 

He not only reminded me that He was right there with me in the pain, but He made the entire sky turn breathtaking shades of pink and purple just so I could understand to what depth His love reached for me at that very moment. I ran out of the restaurant where I was eating solo, stood in the middle of the parking lot like a crazy person, sobbed as a child in the arms of her loving father, took seventeen pictures (literally; I counted), and finally gathered the courage to drive to and attend my first DivorceCare support therapy group. All because God spoke to me using the very clouds I had previously resented. What more can He do in my life using the exact pains and heartaches that I initially despise?

When it comes to clear and clouded skies, I wouldn't necessarily argue that either is better than the other. But honestly, this the first time I've ever said that. (I had not yet recognized this concept on that February evening in 2014 when I wept alone in the Wendy's parking lot.) For so many years, it was completely obvious that clear skies were superior to cloudy ones. Duh. I wanted life to be smooth. I wanted things to happen the way I had always expected. I wanted everything to fall into place just so. I didn't want the wrenches in my system, kinks in my hose, or clouds in my sky.

However, my countless photo albums poorly support this claim that I've preferred clear skies. And now, for the first time, I'm realizing that I truly am grateful for the clouds. I don't just endure them for the sake of survival, but I genuinely appreciate their presence in my world. They provide an avenue by which God can clearly exhibit His masterpiece. Maybe I shouldn't curse the cloudy days, lamenting the loss of my clear view of His sunshine; those cloudy days lead way to some truly magnificent images of God’s love. Images visible near and far. Images I can't wait to witness and share with others. I just have to hold tight until the sun goes down. Eventually, God will draw His most beautiful masterpieces on those very clouds.

I've certainly had more metaphorical clouds in my personal life-sky than I ever would have desired. But I pray that the hard times in my life (and yours), the situations that have blocked my convenient view of Him and have shrouded me in darkness, will eventually, at the twilight of each particular experience, become a canvas by which God can overwhelmingly display His majesty, His purpose, His presence. Maybe, even in the midst of the painful darkness and seeming distance from His light, I can still preemptively be grateful for the amazing story preparing to unfold at dusk. I can sit and rest under the gloomy, overcast sky and fully trust that those originally undesired obstructions are already preparing the canvas of the profound story of my life.

Without the clouds, there’d be no testimony. There'd be no reflection of the sun. There'd be no evidence of the journey. There'd be no story.

The bright days sure are easier, but the cloudy skies are the ones that convey the most captivating works of art.  

BTW. All of the photos featured in this post are pictures I have personally taken with my phone over the past couple of years. They are straight out of the camera with zero editing, color alteration, or filters. God really is just that amazing. And I really am just that obsessed.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Remembering the New Now

When someone's life changes drastically in any way, it can oftentimes be hard to remember that it’s no longer the same as it always was before. This can be the case for any number of major life changes. A move, or the loss of a loved one, or the ending of a relationship...

We've grown so accustomed to life functioning in a certain manner, that even when the loss literally occupies a majority of our thoughts, it can still be easy to forget that circumstances have changed at all.

When my husband left me, rare were the moments that weren't consumed by his absence and all of the emotions that came along with it. However, I would still catch myself forgetting, somehow, that he was no longer around. No longer in my house. No longer part of my life.

I would still want to text him at random times to see how his day was going. I would still look forward to telling him about something that happened at work. I’d still type out an email to share the link of an article I knew he'd enjoy. I’d still roll over at night reaching for his presence in the darkness. It was as if these things were instinctively occurring without any mental effort of my own, and there seemed to be nothing I could do to prevent them.

I remember going to the grocery store for the first time by myself and trying to decide what I should buy for just me. How much milk would I drink on my own? How much deli meat would I eat in a week? Then I strolled down the cereal aisle and got excited when I saw that his favorite brand was on sale. I reached for it, pleased to get a good deal, and then realized that I’d no longer be needing to buy that specific cereal, because he would never again be eating breakfast with me for the rest of my life. My hand hung in mid-stretch while I re-remembered. (And then I broke down and sobbed in the cereal aisle of Publix for this brand new loss, because feelings are real, and they need to be felt. #embracingauthenticity)

Isn’t that weird? Even though the entire grocery trip was focused on my New Now, I still forgot that this specific detail of the Old Way was no longer my reality. 

Has this ever happened to you? Have you still looked forward to spending lunch with a coworker even though you no longer work with that person? Have you still turned left at that intersection toward your old house, even though you moved weeks prior? Have you still anticipated your pet’s welcome home when you walked in the door, even though you sadly had to put him to sleep months before? Have you still wanted to call your grandmother on her birthday, even though she passed away years ago? Have you anxiously anticipated a Friday night relaxing at home with the one you love, even though that one no longer loves you?

Every time something like this happens to me, I’m surprised by the forgetting and then heartbroken again by the sudden re-remembering. It’s like I have to relive the devastation over and over anew. And, quite frankly, that sucks.

Early on, my therapist consoled me by describing our lives together as a giant tapestry, and explaining that I’d have to approach each stitch one-by-one to remove his intertwinement and then resew my single threads into a new pattern. The new design couldn't be embroidered until I had approached each, individual stitch and handled it distinctly.

Even though I've known on a broad scale that everything is different, I still have had to encounter each unique experience to deliberately replace the old with the new. Again, this sucks. And it's not anything I can prepare for. I can't preemptively handle a stitch ahead of time. I have to just wait until it naturally comes along, and I never really know when that will happen.

Sometimes, enough time passes that I think I’ve finally accepted and realized it all fully. But then, out of nowhere, March Madness begins, and I have to resist the urge to ask him how his bracket is doing. (Or a variety of other unanticipated situations.) Generally, when these lapses in memory occur, I chastise myself into believing that I should be over it by now, and what in the world is my problem? 

However, I’m trying to extend a little grace to myself in this regard. I need to be patient with my recovery from such a tragic life loss and readjusting to my New Now. It takes time. More than a dozen years together can’t be replaced in just a few months. It’s going to take a while to cultivate and embrace the New Now.

Recently, after I had gotten more than a little irritated with myself about how long this process of unraveling and reweaving is taking me, my therapist offered reassurance by explaining that it’s an actual physiological phenomenon to adjust to change. In very layman’s terms: My brain has had over a decade to literally build grooves for common pathways of thought, and it will continue to take the path of least resistance unless forced otherwise. Every time I fall back on my instinct to think the way I did when we were together, it’s simply because that’s how my brain has been trained to act over the years. It’s not because I’m weak, stupid, or na├»ve. So, likewise, every time I’m in a position to respond the way I had grown used to in the past, I have to literally stop my brain from relying on those well-worn trenches and consciously make an effort to create new paths. It’s hard work, you guys.

In light of this, I’m trying to give myself a break. When I’m attempting to combat neurological synapses that are incredibly solid from years and years of reinforcement, I can’t expect them to be overcome in a short while with comparatively weak connections and shallow grooves.

That’s a relief.

Maybe I’m not crazy. 

Maybe you’re not either.

Maybe it just takes a while to adjust to any major life change. Maybe it takes a lot of effort to retrain our brains to fully function in the New Now and completely accept that the Old Way is no longer applicable. Maybe that’s why they say "time heals all wounds," because time to encounter all of these experiences is exactly what is required to reprogram our brains to embrace the New Now.

Maybe we’re just humans doing our best.

And maybe we’re not alone in the struggle.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Feel your feelings

Feelings are weird. They’re these constantly present inanimate objects that we continually interact with, whether or not we actually acknowledge them.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, feelings are real. Sometimes we try to give them the cold shoulder in hopes that they’ll get the hint and kindly disappear. Or we politely yet firmly shoo them away into the closet under the stairs out of sight and out of mind. Most often, however, we struggle to outsmart them with logic and explain to them why they don’t make sense and are therefore invalid. But that doesn’t make them any less real.

Feelings aren’t meant to be ignored, shoved away, or chastised. Feelings are meant to be felt. So why don’t we?

In our hearts, we’ll pretend like the sincere emotions we’re feeling aren't accurate. We’ll tell ourselves that we don’t have the right to be sad, because other people have it much worse, so we need to suck it up and just be grateful already. Or that we don’t deserve to be pleased, because we’re just a crappy piece of crap, so why would we think we could feel joy? We each have all kinds of unique baggage we've collected over our lifetime that goes into our handling of our emotions.

Feelings are scary and hard, and we want to avoid them. All of these emotions are small indicators of who we really are, and self-reflection and -evaluation is difficult, y’all. We peek into the dusty storage unit and see all of the broken pieces hiding just behind the feelings, and we close the door tight, too afraid to dive into the mess.

Furthermore, feelings are complicated. Many times I have felt two conflicting emotions simultaneously. I’ve been contently alone and desperately lonely in the same morning. I have been genuinely happy for my ex and terribly sad for myself at the exact same moment. I’ve been sincerely relieved by a change and unbearably heartbroken by the same loss. Does one negate the other? Absolutely not. But, I’m telling you, it’s complicated.  

Many times my head and my heart don’t align. I’ve known and fully believed all of the thoughtful, honest things that any friend would say to cheer me up, but still been devastated, nonetheless. My head knows “it’s better this way,” “God has a plan,” “you’ll be stronger in the end,” etc, but that doesn’t make the emotional pain of the moment any less agonizing. So it gets confusing.

In general, I’m a crier. It’s my physical response to the majority of emotions, both positive and negative. If I’m truly feeling anything at all, my tear ducts are a dead giveaway. However, even understanding that this is my primary method of processing emotions, many times I’ve acted as if crying is a privilege I simply can’t afford. I lecture my heart, saying I need to “pull myself together” and move on, rather than embracing the authenticity of the moment.

I’ve gotten very creative at distracting myself from the true emotions happening inside me. Maybe you have, too. I’ll stay busy in a variety of awesome ways by packing my schedule full of activities and great time with friends. I’ll dive into work, or escape into a different reality through books, tv, and movies. I keep thinking that eventually the feelings will get the hint that I don’t have time for them nor need them, so they’ll just discreetly take their knapsack and head back home.

Some of my emotions have been so intense, I’m completely convinced that if I actually “go there” and allow myself to feel them wholly, I’ll never be able to come back. Once the flood gates are opened, I’ll surely drown in the heavy undercurrent of the crushing waves.  I've convinced myself to ignore the true emotion and maintain the superficial happiness, because if I alternatively embrace the sadness, I’ll never be cheerful again. Like it’s an unwanted house guest that won’t ever leave after it’s been invited through my door.

Irrational but true. 

Luckily, however, that has never happened to me. Just because a feeling is felt, doesn’t mean it must become permanent or monopolize my life forever. Feelings may change from moment to moment or coexist with other feelings of equal or varying intensity. I don't have to be so afraid of their dominance.

I promise, if you can work up the courage to open the locked door and peer into the darkness to examine and become acquainted with one of the emotions you've tucked away, you won’t get trapped in there, too. Instead, you can become friends with it, appreciating its value for what it is. Nothing more; nothing less. You’ll no longer fear inviting it to join you in the future, because you’ll have acquired a mutual understanding with this emotion that it isn't a guest who will never leave. It can come visit when you need it, perform its necessary task, then go back home into the feelings room with the wide open floor plan and unlocked door.

It takes courage to interact with our emotions. It takes a great deal of strength to embrace them and own them and give them space to exist. Crying, instead of a weakness, is one of the bravest things we can do.

Not all feelings are accurate depictions of reality. (Just because you feel unlovable, doesn’t mean that you are unlovable.) But all feelings are real. Regardless of whether or not they are true, the feeling itself is always authentic. They may not be what's expected. They may not be what someone else would feel. But they are your's, and they are real, and they are valid. Don’t let anyone try to talk you out of them. Nobody else can know what they are or tell you what they should be. Only you can feel your feelings. But you’ve got to actually feel them, whatever they are. Go on. You can do it.

It takes time to sit in emotion. It takes determination to explore it. It takes courage to discover the underlying mess. It takes wisdom to decide where to put it and how often to revisit it. 

But it’s worth it.

Once you realize your true feelings, you don’t have to share them with anybody else (although, I certainly suggest it), but please, for your own benefit, at least share them with yourself. Learn them. Know them. Grow acquainted with them. They aren’t as scary as we think they are, and they aren't bullies trying to take over and ruin our lives. Feelings are part of who we are. They’re our core. So go ahead, work up the courage to feel your feelings and get to know yourself. You won’t regret it. And I'm so proud of you.