Love Connection

I sat at the Starbucks gripping my green tea lemonade and waiting for my blind date. Well it wasn’t exactly blind as I’d seen a picture but we’d never met and we’d never even talked. It wasn’t exactly, in the strictest sense of things a date, as much as a coffee meeting.  I have to admit that I’d been the one to initiate things.  I felt it was time and there was a lot riding on this.  I knew what I needed to do but this was so uncomfortable.  I double checked my reflection in the window.  My makeup was looking a little tired,my hair was a little flat and I was a little bloated but I sat up straighter and thought about what I’d say. Then the door opened up.

“Hi, oh my gosh you are gorgeous”.  Oh no I did not just say that. I scrambled.   “I’d seen a picture, your wedding picture but it doesn’t do you justice”.  I could not believe I just said that to my ex husband’s new wife. Seriously?  What about “Hi. It’s nice to meet you.  How are you doing? Thanks for having coffee with me.” as opposed to being a complete goober and blurting out the first thing I could think of to this utterly beautiful petite woman who drifted in, long beautiful tresses draped over her adorable outfit.  I knew before she said anything that she was also a lovely person.  I’d heard she was sweet but I needed to lay eyeballs on the woman who was now my son’s stepmother. She confirmed that opinion by just running with the conversation as if it was the most normal thing in the world for her new husband’s ex to comment on her looks and make reference to the wedding.  She earned definite points for graciousness.

After she got her coffee we talked.  My ex and I got our final divorce decree in July 2011. In December 2011 he met this woman, but February he was talking marriage and by August they were married.  None of this sat well with our son.  I’d warned my ex that our son needed time to get to know her and build a relationship but somehow he decided after a couple of encounters to announce their engagement and then asked my son if it was OK, sort of like when someone lights up and asks if you mind.  Unfortunately it wasn’t going well.  The troubling thing was that my son likes everyone.  There were times at school when someone might give him a rough time and I’d be ready to take it to the principal’s office and he’d say no. “Mom if they are acting out it means they are probably upset about something. I don’t want to make their lives worse.”  “Really?  I mean good for you” (even though I was itching to give them a swat).  This was the first time he’d refused to like someone.  He wouldn’t say her name, or talk to her more than was necessary.  I was all kinds of worried about this one.  As a past medical social worker I had a dozen scenarios playing in my head and none of them good.  Here is where love comes in.

The easiest thing in the world would have been to sit back and let things play out.  I had been translating between son and dad all their lives.  Ever since the divorce I’d been trying to keep these two together.  What I knew was that God designed my son to love.  Anything I did to interfere with that was harmful to him.  In loving my son I had to do everything in my power to keep the love flowing between the two of them.  Please know that my feelings have thrown every justification at me for being a righteous jerk, but my son’s heart is more important.

Now I had a new challenge.  I needed to help my son love his new stepmother.  It didn’t take any time to see what a pure spirit this woman had. I saw how she loved my ex and would have his back. I saw her heart as a mom for her own kids.  There was only one thing for me to do.  When I got home my son was still awake.  “Hey sweetheart. I had a great time.” I said. ” No seriously. I really like her.  I want you to know I feel really free.  I think she’s a good woman.”  My son hugged me.  “Love you mom. Thanks.  It’s going to be OK” and I knew it would be.

Does this hurt? Yes.  My heart aches when he is away. She will be easy to love.  I know that God designed his heart big enough to accomodate more people than me. Sometimes love hurts but in Christ it is not an option.  May God help us all to love way beyond what we thought possible. (Update in the “comment” section). D.

The Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything

The title for this post is not actually a delusional rambling.  I save those for close friends, family and politicians who come to my door soliciting votes. It is a chapter within The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a sci. fi./humour book by Douglas Adams. In it a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42 The Ultimate Question itself is unknown.  I read this years ago and thought it was rather brilliant.  In the past couple of years I realized it has huge theological significance.  Now don’t run away yet.  I promise I will bring this back to something that makes sense. Honest.

When I got married I knew it would be forever.  I married a man who would never leave.  I would have put money on it. I would have ended up broke. Thanks for not taking that bet.

Afterwards I tried to make sense of what had happened.  Why didn’t God fix it? Why didn’t he tell me how to fix it?  Why didn’t he fix us? What purpose did he have in this? Why didn’t it work?   I don’t need to keep on going. If you’ve gone through divorce or trauma you have your own list of hurts and confusions.  It was easy to feel that others were looking at me as defective and the unspoken “if you’d had real faith this wouldn’t have happened.”

Thankfully Mr. Adams came to the rescue and he did it in the form of the book of Ruth. (No really.  Please hang on. It will make sense in a minute.)

Naomi marries a man named Elimelech. They have two sons whose names mean puny and pining.  Really.  Who gives their kids names like this? Famine has hit Judah so we may have a hint as to how desparate things were. Imagine how you would be praying, begging God for help.  Save us. Save our boys. They decide to move to Moab, away from friends, family and their faith community. You would be praying that God would protect you there. Eventually the boys marry foreign women outside of the faith. How that must have burned and shamed Naomi, but it got worse. Her husband dies and then both boys die.  Naomi knows that God has abandoned her.  She hears that things are better in Judah and so plans to return home to survive. She sends the girls home. There would be no love for these foreign women back home.  One goes but one refuses to leave Naomi.  Naomi is a broken woman. She says she has nothing to offer, no future sons and she says she sees no future husband for herself. “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”  How could she think anything else?  She knew that that is how others would judge her life. She was not favoured by God and now she would be a burden to her family until the day she died.

Imagine being her, crying out to God as to why he hated her so much.  What was her sin?  What was her purpose?  In reality the answer is 42.  We know from reading the book of Ruth (and if you haven’t, take my word for it, and then check it out yourself) that the purpose of her life was to bring Ruth into the line of David and ultimately Jesus. Come again?

There is no way that Naomi would have ever understood the purpose of her life.  She had no ability to get that answer and if she got it to understand it.  The meaning of her life could not be puzzled out.

I believe we treat God like a glorious Rubik’s cube that if we line things up right, we can figure out. He is the Holy Wild and we do not have the capacity to understand his thoughts and workings.  Does it make it easier? Yes and no.  It reminds me that it isn’t always about causal connections.  I still have to deal with pain and confusion but I can step away from the thinking that says things like “pain is God megaphone” and trying to fit everything into my frame of reference. Sometimes the answers for what happens in our lives is 42. I am so sad that Naomi died thinking she wasn’t loved.  I am grateful to Mr. Adams for a great life lesson.  Reflection is good but endless navel gazing is a lousy view. Sometimes the answers are not where or what we would think.  The meaning of life is way beyond us and I’m O.K. with that.

Take care, D.

Baggage

“Good afternoon madame.  Are you checking in?  Yes?  Any baggage?  Oh my.  You are taking all of this with you?  I’ll get the manager”.

We all have baggage. Some of us have backpacks and others need sherpas to move their steamer trunks and wardrobes.

One of the biggest challenges of being divorced is learning how to tell people who you are. I know I still get stuck on that one.  I’m always fascinated by how people choose to  introduce themselves.  In one online arts group I belong to we ask newcomers to introduce themselves to the group.  I was stunned by one lady’s opening.

“Hello, I joined this group over a year ago (I think), and have been silent ever since.I have chronic major resistant depression, as well as an auto-immune disorder, for which I a now taking narcotics.”   Really?  This is what you want us to know about you? What we say first is how we define the most important part of our being. It is what we want to be known for.  This woman let us know right from the beginning that her struggles were her focus. She didn’t once mention her interest in our craft, her interest in any art form or even if she had children or pets. We didn’t even know her name before her baggage was dropped at our feet.

I never met the woman or know her name. I am sorry she has such problems but nothing in her intro. drew me to her.  She’d fallen into the trap of our generation, of identifying herself, not by her astrological sign, but by her self-help group. We are a generation that identifies itself by its damage. The problem with taking your identity from your damage is that you can’t afford to heal. If you do you lose what makes you special.

I also struggle with a serious auto-immune problem but I need people to know me for my faith, my friendships, my humour, my volunteer work, my artwork, travels, my love of reading, etc.  I want to be known for my passions and strengths.  I may be divorced but I am not my divorce.  It isn’t about being better than anyone else. Many of you have stories that are so horrible that you are victims in the truest sense of the word.  It is about being self aware of how we are presenting ourselves and the tone we are setting for future relationships. It’s about deciding on our own marketing and deciding what we want to define us.

Recently I was making up new business cards since I’d closed my website and wanted to direct traffic to my Flickr site.  I wanted to pick a background for my card that conveys a sense of who I am as an artist. I searched through the free templates looking for swirls and colours that resonated with me. I wanted it to say “me” before people even read the print.  On the card I only had two lines to tell people what sort of artist I am and why I should be their go to girl.

I realized that the new me also needed some repackaging. What would I say if I only had two lines to let people know who I am?

.   Even the people you have known for years may not know how to approach the new you and need direction.  It was really upsetting to me in the beginning when people I’d known seemed to shy away. I realized that I had to be the one to redefine myself for them so they’d know what to do.  They needed direction from me.

As people who’ve gone through a terrible transition we need to actively decide how we want to be seen. Do we present our strengths and interests or our victimization? What do we have to offer others?  Usually baggage, especially after a hectic trip, contains a lot of smelly things.  No one is interested.  When we get back from travelling the kids are usually hoping for gifts or souvenirs.  “What did you bring us?”  Our baggage is a mix of all of this. I would say that in going forward we need to unpack in private, and decide what others would enjoy seeing from our travels.  It is up to us to decide how we want to introduce the new us.

What would your two lines be?

D.

Stinking Weasel, Self Esteem and Other Popular Myths

O.K. I feel a rant coming on.  I swear it isn’t my fault.  Yesterday I was stuck waiting in a doctor’s office and was subjected to a canned bad remix of Sinatra’s “My Way”. The lyrics at the best of times set my teeth on edge  but this should have been banned under the Geneva convention. Besides being made to feel like I was trapped in an elevator I  just can’t get on board with the whole premise. The dramatic message of the song is that the highest value is to be true to yourself and to do things your way, but there’s a problem.  What if someone in their heart of hearts, at the core of their being is a stinking weasel?   Why is being true to that a good thing?  I’m thinking that who we are should not always be the marker by which we set the bar. Be honest, for some of the people you’ve met that bar would be subterranean, yet we accept the concept of “to thine own self be true” without critical reflection.

Since my divorce (that word still gives me the shivers) I have been given a fair bit of self love advice.  I admit that I have the occasional committment issues with self love as I know myself too well but all in all there is an abiding fondness.  What worries me is that the goal of these “love yourself” books and talks seem to border on stalkerish behaviour.  I think that knowing yourself and finding the things you enjoy about yourself is good. You spend a lot of time with you and having a nice working relationship is helpful.  Being infatuated with your every thought or action, putting yourself on a pedestal that says that everything you do, say or think is magnificent, is delusional.

Self esteem is a thorny issue.  You need to believe in your own decisions, opinions, tastes and values.  You need to know who you are and find your voice.  The problem is the wholesale acceptance of everything you are without any critical assessment. Have you really reached your end goal?  Really?  There is no tweaking to be done? I’ve yet to meet the person who couldn’t use a little emotional nip or tuck.

I’m an artist and there is a brilliant story teller Ira Glass.  In a little video series he talks about the gap between your taste and your output. http://youtu.be/BI23U7U2aUY (If this link doesn’t work go to YouTube and look up Ira Glass on Storytelling, part 3 or 4).

Part of his point is to know your goals, produce work, acknowledge the gap and keep on producing until you’ve narrowed the gap. He also says that it wil take a long time to get from here to there.  It’s the same with personal, emotional and spiritual growth.

I think this applies to self esteem.  Loving yourself doesn’t mean that you are the finished product and ready for worship. I really hate the whole attitude of, “Well this is me and if that isn’t good enough for you then watch my dust as I leave because I’m perfect the way God made me.”  If I was truly the way God made me that would be great but I’ve done some alterations of my own and maybe some self assessment isn’t unwarranted.  I go to church because I need to. We need people to love us as we are but that doesn’t mean that some of our behaviours and attitudes don’t need adjustment.

A couple of days ago in a post called “Walls” I quoted from Isaiah 58: 11,12. It talked about God guiding and restoring and rebuilding in our lives. It is a wonderful thing to soak in. What I didn’t include were verses 9 and 10. There were conditions on these blessings. They called for personal corrections. It talked about what you needed to do and stop doing.

” If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

Hhm. No making others pay for our pain. No yelling, blaming or bitter talk.  Be useful and helpful. Look to the needs of others. Don’t you love that phrase, “then your light will rise in the darkness”?  How can you not want that?  Here is the blue print and it has nothing to do with making yourself the center. The opposite behaviour is the way out.

In the name of self esteem it doesn’t mean that we are the gold standard of all we could or ever should be.  What if we have our own stinking weaselisms (that word is probably going to give my spell checker a nervous breakdown)?  Maybe I’m just talking to myself but especially in the church we have to be able to be transparent withourselves. I will never understand why anyone who has been forgiven could ever twist it to the point where they think that they are the example to be followed.  So many of the disagreements in the church come down to the fact that we want others to worship and serve and pray as we do in order for the other person to be correct.

One of my favorite quotes is that real evangelism is one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread.  I have no defence. If you look to find fault in me you won’t have to try too hard. We were saved by perfection. We are not perfection, and that’s O.K..

I’m also always leery of people who proclaim that they have bad self-esteem. I’ve always found it to be an excuse for really bad behaviour towards others.  What it often means is they are upset that they aren’t treated as the lead dog of the pack and they resent it. In fact they have the opposite of bad self esteem. Their insecurities have to do with how they think they ought to be treated.  Real low self esteem people rarely say a word.  They don’t believe they have anything to say worth hearing.  Those people break my heart.  Telling them they need great self esteem is useless as they don’t see what is beautiful in themselves as they are fixated on their flaws.

Either way we fixate on what is broken or pretend that we are beyond being challenged. Neither brings healing or wholeness.

May I suggest a middle ground?  What if we could see the pretty, shiny things inside, enjoy them and set goals for the other stuff?  No hand wringing, no stomping out with an attitude, just a pinch of humility, a little light humored acceptance with a dose of reality? The “self” is a modern mythological god that is notoriously unreliable.  Appreciate it as a work in progress get rid of the pressure of being a small “g” god.  Make Isaiah 58:9, 10 a personal goal.

Now if I could just get that muzak out of my head!   (The above cartoon is the cover of an “Agnes” book by Tony Cochran)

Squaring Off

I can’t tell you how good it felt when I first read this quote.  I finally felt vindicated in being what I truly am.  I am a circle person.  I admit it.  I have tried for years to be a square person but it was all a lie.  Contemporary lines in furniture and kitchen design just left me cold.  I was always drawn to round shapes.  If I had my choice my front door would be round like one the ones from the Hobbit’s little homes under the hill in the shire.  Wouldn’t that be cheery?

I’d been toying with the idea of getting a backsplash for my kitchen and saw endless walls of square and rectangular, in style tiles. These were proper tiles. These were the type that “helped with resale”. I was uninspired and the truth was that my heart would beat faster when I would see the rogue board of round smooth beach pebble tiles or a great rounded mosaic with swirling patterns. “Yes!” my psyche screamed (my psyche is rather dramatic so I don’t let it out in polite company) that this was me and circles were my people.  I wanted these but they just were not wise. No. Future buyers would look at them as odd.  I knew this because almost every person that has ever been on House Hunters has walked into the kitchens and said, “My style is granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. It’s my thing.”.  How could the same thing be everyone’s thing?  They’ve been told it is “The” thing so it is their thing, thus square tiles were the “right” tiles. As you can see, even writing about them has provoked the overuse of quotation marks.

I knew my circle tastes needed to be limited to hoop earrings and cookies (both of which make me happy).

One of the freedoms of being on my own again (and don’t I feel guilty for admitting to finding something enjoyable) is to assert my own tastes in my own home.  The funny part was that though I had the freedom to do this I didn’t feel the personal freedom to do it without approval, and yes this is as weak as it sounds.  It really confounded me.  If I thought of it in terms of the Einstein quote, I wanted to swim but felt guilty I wasn’t working on my tree climbing skills.  I realized that it wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed to change things but I’d stopped trusting my own judgement to make good decisions.  I was shocked at my self doubt.  I was a circle girl in a square world and needed to figure out how to make peace with that without someone giving me approval.  I realized that by making circle decisions for my home I wasn’t redecorating but making a step into singleness and letting my home reflect me rather than us.

The dark side of this was that the pained little voice inside me said it was another reminder that no one cared what I did. Thinking that thought made me mad.  Did I really believe that my life didn’t have value just by itself?  How many women have said they don’t bother to cook anymore as it was just for themselves? Why?  Aren’t they worth a good meal?  Don’t they deserve circles?  Our marriages got broken but it didn’t mean that we as women are broken and have no value.  I realized that I was acting like I died instead of  my marriage. I realized that I had to trust that who I am is enough and whole as is.  It was time to believe that my life has purpose and value and to live like I believed it even if I didn’t know how God would shape it.

It was time to accept myself as a swimmer rather than judge myself as a climber.   It was and is time for circles.

So empowered I could hug myself

AgnesI love Agnes.  She flicks on a light of truth into the junk room of our lives.

I have been handed a few how-to books since “Bob” left (not his name but easier than calling him Mr. G.)  Many of them have stories of women who have been horribly wronged, left with nothing and arose from the ashes to become CEOs of fortune 500 companies, join the speaking circuits at women’s conferences or excelled in the field of excellence.  Other books talked about how I need to get to the point where I can go to the local Save On, stand on a carton of avocados, fling open my arms and declared the awesome, wonderful, glorious radiance of Me.

It promised that once I embraced my uniqueness that others would be dazzled by my shiny brightness.

I tried to build up to that by going to a fruit stand, nudging up to the spoiled produce and telling passers by that I was going to be their new best friend.  Needless to say there were no takers. I’m thinking that my charisma hadn’t caught up to my new empowerment.

All right so maybe I’m exaggerating a little but seriously why the extremes?  In Christianity everything doesn’t have to be a major made for TV movie.  O.K. so maybe Agne is shooting a little low with the flies on the paper but I get it.  My awesomeness today  is measured in remembering it is my day to do the carpool, getting the garbage to the road, thinking about dinner prep. before I hear, “What’s for dinner?”, and checking the day timer.  I might even file away some papers in the office stack that have become a modern fibre sculpture. For tomorrow’s act of awesomeness I might tackle the junk drawer.

Thank you Agnes for resetting the bar to a workable level.

Still in her pyjamas, D.

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