Hi. Remember Me?

Ugh, I’ve been struggling to figure out how to write this post for several days, but no clever ideas have come to me so I suppose I may as well just dive in and vomit it out.  The last you heard from me, I was going to go curl up in the fetal position. Which wasn’t hyperbole. I was probably a couple of days out from complete nervous breakdown. As regular readers know, the last few years have not been kind to me and my family. It all culminated last summer with my husband leaving me with 5 kids which was a fairly stressful and traumatic experience. Around the start of the year, I felt like I was turning a corner. I went days at a time without crying and even felt happy for at least part of every day.  I knew that there would be bumps on the road, but for me February was more like running into the side of a mountain and then being hunted down by a pack of Chupacabra. I mean, under more normal circumstances, I could handle emergency gallbladder surgery and my mother almost dying within 10 days like a champ. I could maybe even weather not having my parents – particularly my mother – readily available to talk to when I needed to vent. But this time? Not so much.

I told my mom later that it felt like the only time I went skiing and crashed so hard that I never did find the rabbit fur ear muffs I had pressured my brother to let me borrow. I just crashed. It sucked to be me. But is that ever enough? No, of course not. Because I could see that the whole thing was part of a massive, cosmic set-up. You see, for several months, the ex had been making noises about moving back in. Seeing as he was still picking fights with me to argue that “humiliation is too a good parenting tool” and responding to my requests for a break from the kids that lasted more than 2 hours by accusing me of using the kids as an excuse not to create a real life for myself, this wasn’t a particularly tempting proposition. I did finally tell him that if he wanted to move into the basement I guess that would be OK, but I wasn’t prepared to raise so much as an eyebrow in order to help him move the boys out of their room so it could happen. Which meant that there was a close to 0% chance of it actually happening.

But I had also told him that I found his continuing crazypants talk frightening and perhaps he would want to get some counseling before I signed the kids up for lessons in self-defense. Which he finally did. So, right around the time that my mom was near death and I could feel myself coming completely unglued, he came and apologized. Apparently the counselor had given him an emotional intelligence test that he scored a zero on and it opened his eyes. Actually, I have no idea what he scored on the Emotional Intelligence tests, but just 3 sessions in he felt compelled to come and beg forgiveness and offered to help me recover from having to live with him the last couple of years. Which I may have rolled my eyes at if at that moment I wasn’t afraid that I was going to wind up like that Kony 2012 guy and run out into the street in my underwear to bang my head on the pavement.  Which would have been really bad because I’ve had 5 kids and look much worse in my undies than that guy did. Well, OK, I probably wouldn’t have ended up like that anyways – it takes too much energy to have a psychotic break. I’m more given to catatonic posturing; that only requires me work up enough energy to suck air. At any rate, I knew that I was close to losing it and needed help and lacking any other reasonable volunteers, he moved back in.

For the first few days I kept him up half the night with my sobbing. Because the idea that I was going to have to wake up to another day was that awful just then. He had promised that he was done complaining, criticizing and demanding – particularly when it came to my crappy house keeping. So I took him at his word and didn’t do shit for a couple of weeks. I got my anti-depressants and slept a lot. Obviously, I didn’t (couldn’t) write anything. And slowly, slowly, slowly after much time spent staring at walls, I started getting better. I stopped spending most of my time hiding in my room (or bathroom). I took the kids on walks and met people. The last few days I’ve felt almost normal. My house is cleaner than it’s been in ages. And I can actually think about writing again.

So, the qxh (quasi-ex-husband) has become the qh (quasi-husband). Quasi because I’m still not convinced that this is going to work. We had our first argument since he moved back last night (which isn’t too bad considering that it’s been almost a month and a half). But frankly, I’m just not at all confident that the man even likes who I am as a human being. Which is a real deal breaker donchano? And my tolerance for people whose views of me and my actions are delusional, negative and/or psychotic (a good description of his stance for the year before he left) has been reduced to just about nothing. I have family members I’m not speaking to for just that reason. There’s no way in hell that I’m actually going to live with someone who is likewise inclined to hyper-critical, reality-free thinking when it comes to me. I make NO claims to perfection, but frankly, I think I’m a fairly awesome person and have done a pretty admirable job with my life which is also completely imperfect, but pretty awesome nonetheless. Anyone who thinks otherwise can feel free to STFU. Or barring that, allow me to suggest a long walk off a short pier in the Everglades. I promise not to miss you when you’re gone!

I referred earlier to this whole thing as a “massive cosmic set-up” because reality is that it was going to take me being knocked flat on my ass before I would consider letting the qh move in or attempt any reconciliation. We were utterly done. Heck, we don’t even have our wedding rings anymore. The only reason he was the quasi-ex-husband and not just the ex-husband was that there was no money to file the papers I have all filled out and working out child support was going to be complicated by his already existing child support orders.  It could well be that with continued counseling for the qh and eventually for us together, we’ll be able to work things out. In which case, we’ll be able to look back and be happy that I had finally hit my wall. If not, I’m at least glad that he was able to step in when he did and get along well enough with me and the kids to give me time to recuperate.

So, yeah, that’s what’s been up with me. Anything interesting going on in your world?

I Need an Editor. Or Something. . . Forgiving. For Real.

A few years ago, I was writing an obituary for a friend’s father who had passed away suddenly.  As many of you may have noticed, I do alright with the writing part of things most of the time, but I’m not quite so skilled as an editor*.  So, you shouldn’t be too surprised at the fact that I accidentally put the word “believed” where “beloved” was supposed to go.  So the first line read: “Mr. Bob Kennedy, believed father of Teddy and Linda Kennedy. . .”  Suddenly it seemed like not such a bad thing that Mr. Kennedy’s ex-wife hadn’t shown up to help her children handle the arrangements. 

(I spent the weekend with Mr. Kennedy a couple of years earlier when his son Teddy got married.  We were both just-outside-the-inner-circle participants in the wedding.  My ex was the best man and Mr. Kennedy was the now sober  and present father.  I am quite certain that Mr. Kennedy absolutely laughed his ass off over the whole thing.  I mean, he valued his children more than men who never went without them sometimes do.  But the whole thing was pretty rich.  He would have seen the humor.)  

I keep thinking about that story, because I keep thinking about her – the former Mrs. Kennedy.  Continue reading

The Prophetess of Doom and Gloom

I met a woman a couple of months ago who may have saved my life.  At the very least, she brought a much needed spark of laughter and joy into a dark time.  And I don’t even remember her name.  She was a short woman, with slightly beaver like teeth, but it was a faux-masquerade ball at the local science museum for geeky adults and she was wearing a sequined mask, so I never saw her face.  I went because not only am I a geeky adult, I’m also a member of the museum so it was free.  

In the course of talking I mentioned that I had 5 kids and was separated from their dad.  Turns out she was divorced as well.  I listened to her story and expressed sympathy for her painful experience.  And then she turned to me and said, “well, and I hate to be a Debby Downer here, but you do know you’re never going to get another man again.  Not with 5 kids you’re not.  No way.  You’re going to spend the rest of your life alone.”  At which point it took every ounce of self-control for me not to burst out laughing.  Who says something like that?  What is wrong with this person?  How do you even respond to something like that?  Do you burst into tears, confess your fear of being alone forever and let her shake her head knowingly at the shame of it all?  If you try to protest that you’ll be OK she’s just going to assume you’re in denial and maybe humor you.  I could have told her she was rude, but she was such a character I hated to see her leave in a huff.  I told her I hadn’t started processing that aspect of my loss yet. 

Now, if this had been all the woman said, that would have been enough to make it worth my drive out that night.  But I will take it that God knows my sense of humor and put this dear woman in my path that night.  Continue reading

An Aspiring Dumb Aleck Speaks

When I was a kid, every time one of my parents said, “don’t be a smart aleck” I had to supress the mighty urge to respond, “would you rather I be a dumb aleck?”  (I’m pretty sure my attempts at repression failed more than once.)  Even worse was when my dad would get frustrated with me and tell me, “ah- you just think you’re right.”  Well, yeah – of course I think I’m right.  If I thought I were wrong, I would change my mind.  Duh.  Change my mind if I’m so wrong.  (At this point my father is saying to the monitor: “finally – she tells it like it really is!” To which I must simply point out that I was a teenager who never drank, smoked, did drugs, went to parties, dated or had sex.  And I was usually on the honor roll and attended mass daily.  The challenges of raising me could probably be viewed as the parenting equivalents of first world problems.)

My favorite people have always been the ones who I could crack wise with to my heart’s content.  Part of the bond I always shared with the qxh (quasi-ex-husband) was the fact that I could say almost any outrageous over-the-top thing that popped into my head around him.  Which can create its own complications.  I had to sit him down a couple of years into our marriage to explain that we don’t actually live in a sitcom and if he didn’t tone it down, he was going to find himself in the middle of a family melodrama with no batteries in the remote. 

Last night I attended a divorce care recovery group where it was recommended that we make a list of what we have lost in divorce.  One of those things for me has been having a place for my personality to just sprawl out where ever it wanted to go.  Continue reading

I asked God to hit my husband with a bus

It has long been a practice among those who want to learn how to pray to pray a psalm each day – preferably by starting at the front and working through them in order.  When you do this, you find that some days the psalm speaks to you and some days you are praying someone else’s prayer.  Which is as it should be.  The point of the discipline isn’t to find your day’s prayer; it’s to absorb how to pray.  Pretty quickly you start seeing the difference between how the psalmists speak to God and how you have been praying.  For me, I was struck by how often the psalmist would remind God of promises made and of the psalmist’s faithfulness.  I tend to be too undemanding and don’t give myself credit for anything, so these passages stuck out to me and praying them felt unnatural.  Which is part of what the psalms do for us: they encourage us to be honest with God and ourselves in ways that we usually avoid.

And then there are the cursing psalms.  In her memoir, Phyllis Pickle, who writes devotionals to help people “pray the hours” talks about  the revelation that discovering these psalms was for her.  These are not the ones, she points out, that are read much during church services.  They aren’t very uplifting or edifying. When they are talked about, it is usually under the heading of “difficult scripture verses” and the conversation is about how to understand how their often violent language and desires can be reconciled with a loving God.  But as Ms. Pickle and so many others have found, these psalms are a great gift to us.  They can be prayed directly during times of great duress or betrayal which is how Ms. Pickle talks about using them.  The inclusion of these expressions of hurt and anger, despair and betrayal let us know that God is a safe place to take our raw hurt and disappointment and anger.  We don’t have to whitewash ourselves before coming to God and we don’t have to work everything through to an acceptable place before we can go before God.

This summer was my summer to write my own cursing psalm.  As I wrote about here, this summer was an awful one.  Devastating was the word that kept coming to mind, but it never seemed strong enough.  I felt down to the depths of my soul that I had been mistreated, judged unfairly and betrayed.  And I was angry like I have never been before.  Not only was my family and marriage broken apart, it was done in such a way that even wishful thinking couldn’t come up with a way to put it back together.  Hiroshima after the bomb went off felt like a good illustration of what was left on a lot of days.  So, I asked God to hit my husband with a bus.  Really hard.  It seemed a fair price to pay for destroying a family.  And it would be merciful – just think of all the future sin this man would be prevented from heaping on his own head.  (Please keep in mind here that I am speaking of my own feelings.  Whether they were justified or appropriate to what was actually happening is a separate issue.)

I know we’re not supposed to think, much less admit to thinking such things.  But that was sincerely how I felt.  So I went to God and basically said, “I know that this isn’t mine to decide.  And I know that it’s probably very wrong for me to say this and if it is I hope you will forgive me and help me work through it, but I really want you to have a bus run my husband over.  Like really slam into him so he dies instantly.  I don’t want him to suffer – life’s been too hard already.  But it is an affront to me that he’s walking around sucking air telling himself terrible lies about me and our family and marriage.  All hope of my life ever being right is gone.  So, could you please hit him with a bus?”

I wish I could say it was hyperbole, but it wasn’t.  A couple of times when he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and I couldn’t get a hold of him, I wondered if maybe something had happened to him.  And I still didn’t feel bad for praying for his death.  But that sort of anger can only stay in your heart for so long before it starts to turn on you.  So more and more my prayers were tempered with, “I know that you probably have other plans for him, so if he can’t be hit by a bus, please take this angry desire from my heart.”  Shortly after that God pointed out that if he did arrange for an untimely demise, my sons would be afraid of God.  It would send the message to them that if they screwed up badly enough, God might arrange for their untimely demise as well.  Which is true and certainly not desirable.  So, my desire for my husband’s death started to loosen its grip on my heart.

As I have struggled through these last few months, I have had to give myself over to just trusting in God.  Because nothing makes any sense to me and I can’t fix anything or get anything to work so all I can do in order to keep from losing all hope is trust God.  All other doors and hopes keep being closed off.  As time passed and it became clear that God was not granting or going to grant my request, I started using that same trust to trust that God really does have a better idea about how to handle the situation than I do.  One that I will be even happier with.  So my angry desire has continued to loose its grip on me.  Most days it still doesn’t seem like a bad idea to me.  I do ask God’s forgiveness every time I wish my husband would disappear from the face of this earth.  But it’s not what God wants which means that in the long run it wouldn’t be what I want either.  It just takes time and a willingness to let God work in order to get from the place of our deepest hurts and anger to the place where we our souls are satisfied.

The thing I think people who are walking with God need to remember is that God will only touch what we allow him to touch.  Like Jesus says, he stands at the door and knocks, but we have to open the door.  He’s not going to barge in and fix you uninvited.  But if you can embrace and own your deepest hurts and darkest anger and what comes up out of them and bring them to God, he will walk you through them.  But when we deny or hide or embrace those deep, dark places separate from God, that is when they can damage us and those around us.  Which is not what God wants for any of us.  And that is why the cursing psalms are there.

I am not the Pioneer Woman –

Not The Pioneer Woman!

For the 3 of you who do not know, The Pioneer Woman is Ree Drummond, a homeschooling mother of 4 who lives with her husband on a working ranch.  She has an enormously popular blog, is a talented photographer, cook and writer.  She is beautiful and stylish and has great taste.  Her kids and her house are comfortably imperfect, but are never so out of hand that someone will wonder what’s wrong with her.  She has a new show on Food Network, has written several books and has more followers than a snow plow in traffic.  I begrudge her none of her talent, success or happiness.  I hope she is enjoying it all to the fullest.

What does occur to me, however, is that she is the latest, albeit one of the most authentic, in a long line of women providing lifestyle porn to American women dreaming of having a life which is more beautiful, comfortable, happy and morally sound than their own.  Few of us have the talent to pull of a life like the pioneer woman’s.  And many of us are just struggling to overcome the cruelties that life has thrown at us alongside other people who are struggling to overcome their own tragedies and errors.  Sometimes we have children who are not merely mischievous or strong willed, but defiant, resistant to correction of any kind and simply uncooperative.  I call what Drummond offers lifestyle porn because although this one woman has created this life for herself, the rest of us are watching someone do things we will never be afforded the time, talent or breathing room to do while thinking that perhaps we ought to be able to do it.  It’s a nice fantasy, but just like with the other kind of porn, one that leaves us less secure and less satisfied with what we do have in real life.

I, however, am not The Pioneer Woman.  My life is such a mess right now that its considered polite to keep it to myself because it causes other people too much stress to even be aware of it.  I wish I were kidding.  I have had people tell me that they didn’t stay in touch because the small peeks of my life that they saw were too hard for them to deal with.  And normally I am pretty private person.  If you look through this blog you won’t find a lot of information about my personal life.  Heck, I’ve had two kids since I started keeping the blog which hardly got mentioned!  What I do share a lot of is my personal take on the big questions of life and tackling some of the unsolved problems of life and religion that fascinate me.

A lot of what I’ve been writing lately could probably fall under the category of “inspiration” or encouragement.  But today, I want to do what I normally do not do and share more about my personal life.  I want to do this now in order to provide some context for the things I write.  Because I can’t do what Ree Drummond does and offer a vision of a life that is better than the ones the rest of us find ourselves in.  But what I do have to offer is a vision of how to approach life when it is ugly and messy and unhappy without being defeated.  When I write something encouraging, it doesn’t come from someone who hasn’t been there.  It’s not even coming from someone who has gone through hard times and can look back and offer encouragement to those still in the struggle.  The things I share are the things I am hanging onto right now, in the middle of the battle.  They are battle tested and true.

So, for those who don’t know me, here’s some background.  I have 5 kids ranging in age from 16 down to 1 1/2.  Early this summer, my husband left me with said kids and very little support.  This was not a mutual decision.  In the last 6 years, my husband had suffered 4 job losses – none of which was due to any error on his part.  He also started, experienced some success with and then lost a small business.  Two years ago one of our daughters was the victim of a serious crime which fortunately caused no permanent physical damage, but was emotionally wrenching.  And my stepson came to live with us and caused more trouble and heartache than you can imagine before getting some counseling and pulling himself together.  All of which is simply to say that it’s not like a wind blew and my husband fell down.  We’ve been standing in the face of alternating hurricanes and droughts for years.  And until the incident with our daughter, we were standing strong together.  People who saw us together would often comment that we were cute and obviously happy together.  Not that everything was perfect, but when the social worker we had to deal with after the incident with our daughter asked how we were weathering this as a couple, we responded that we were leaning on each other and strong.

But then things started falling apart.  My husband couldn’t forgive.  I was struggling with going from having 4 kids to 6 kids in a year in the middle of all of this while also suffering from clinical depression.  I had been worried for some time that my husband was enduring the challenges we faced, but wasn’t growing stronger through them.  And he was working, but he had stopped taking care of any other responsibility.  Sometimes he stayed out drinking and doing Lord knows what until all hours – even on work nights.  Alarm bells really started going off for me when he walked in one day irate and declared that he was going to start taking it as a personal affront to his position as father and provider that the kids kept leaving  bikes in his parking spot in the garage.  Shortly after that, there was a very ugly conflict that got out of hand and in the aftermath, my husband decided that I was his enemy.  He went from being my best friend to blaming me for everything that was wrong with our lives – big and small.

I spent a year trying to salvage the relationship and doing whatever I could to hang on and buy time for him to come around.  He spent that year being my accuser.  He rewrote the entire history of our relationship together to paint me as manipulative, lazy, controlling and selfish.  Even things that I did purely out of love were now seen in his eyes as a means of getting what I wanted.  All of my flaws became the defining features of our lives together.  Every disagreement we’d ever had and every decision we made that wasn’t his first choice became examples of how he’d been forced to live a life he never wanted because of me and my insistence on having my own way.  My side of every issue was dismissed as ridiculous and wrong.  Everything I had put into the marriage – all of the love, forgiveness, understanding, grace – was not asked for and didn’t offset the fact that I was a mediocre housekeeper.  Being a good mom was now a weapon used against me to demonstrate that I only cared about the kids and not at all about my husband.  Being a good mother was nice for the kids, but did nothing to benefit my husband.  He went so far as to accuse me of breaking my marriage vows of “forsaking all others” by being a better mom than wife (according to his view).  I had forgiven and stood by through things that would have destroyed other marriages and in return my husband created spreadsheets to track when I came to bed with dirty feet, pictures of the house on days that I didn’t get it cleaned and a detailed account of every check that we bounced in 2001 (all my fault, of course).

Through all of this, I kept praying, “God, if you want me to love this man, please give me your heart for him so I can.”  And for a long time, God did.  So, I kept getting myself back up and doing my best to let go of the latest assault and return love for hate.  Sometimes my husband would show some sign of willingness to stop the war, but it never lasted.  In time, I sensed God telling me to let him go, but I couldn’t bring myself to and hung on for several more months.  Finally, we had an argument where I got very upset and begged my husband to lay off – even temporarily – because he was hurting me and it was for no purpose.  And he wouldn’t stop.  He stood by the most outrageous, cruel, hurtful things he had said and pinned the blame for them on me.  And I realized that he didn’t care how much he hurt me.  He might view it as regrettable, but he had no empathy for my pain and no qualms about inflicting more and more pain on me.  At that point, I accepted that whoever he was before and whatever we had between us in the past, that was all gone.  And all that was left was a very, very bad person who would intentionally hurt those who love him the most and would tell himself whatever lies he needed to in order to feel justified in doing so.  So, I stopped fighting for the marriage and he moved out.

And this is the nightmare I’m living in.  When he first left, he left me with a few days food and $30.  That’s gotten better, but my stepson moved back with his mom and a third of my husband’s income in going to her, so there isn’t enough to go around.  I’ve sold all my jewelry and savings bonds and anything else I can find to buy food and gas, but now that’s all gone.  I keep waiting for God to come and rescue me, but so far, the rescue has been wholly spiritual.  So I can write things like this and this and this.  But winter’s coming and I have no heat.  My parents have been angels and my godmother sent money to get the kids what they needed to go back to school. I published the book I always wanted to and have another one in the works.  I’ve taken a job as a wedding DJ to make some money.  But I’m waiting for lightening and I’m having a hard time getting static cling.  It’s more than I would want anyone to have to go through and it’s not fair.

I’m not sharing this so that anyone can feel sorry for me (please don’t – I feel sorry enough for myself w/out anyone else’s help!).  What I want is for people to see this and know that if I can go through all of this without shutting down or self destructing or abandoning my faith, so can they.  And I want people to read something like Hey You Doubters and know that it’s written for someone like them – no matter how dark and messy their circumstances are.  Like I said, these are battle tested truths that I’m putting out there.  Someone like The Pioneer Woman or the zillion Christian women whose twitter info reads “daughter of the King, married to the love of my life, mom to 3 and loving every minute” can show you a life that’s better than your own, I can’t help but think that I’m privileged to be able to sit in a dark, messy, painful place and still be able to point people back to God.   And I hope that unlike the porn – lifestyle or otherwise – that is enjoyable to watch, but leaves you feeling insecure and dissatisfied, what I have to offer will leave you feeling more hopeful and courageous and trusting in God.  Because that’s real life for all of us – not just the talented and fortunate and successful.