Single On Saturday

Snowed In On Saturday

It was Saturday, and I was snowed in.

My favorite internet meteorologist had given us a heads up about the weekend’s impending storm a week in advance. By Wednesday night I was confident Richmond would be getting a good snowfall, and my excitement grew. Normally, early January depresses me as I pack up Christmas decorations and fall off my new year’s resolution wagon. But the possibility of a snow day, even a weekend snow day, never fails to brighten my spirits.

My favorite thing about a snow day is how it puts a stop to our normal busyness, sometimes for days at a time. It is a reminder of just how powerless we are in the face of Mother Nature. It is a forced Sabbath. And as long as I’m prepared with all the necessities – bread, milk, toilet paper, hot cocoa – I’m happy to be homebound for a day or two watching the gentle quieting of the world.

This Saturday, I did not eat the bread, drink the milk, or even open the new package of TP. But I did enjoy the cocoa in the company of one of my favorite people – Floyd.

I’ve been writing about Floyd on Holeyheart.com since the very beginning. I may not have used his name, but he is the “fella” to which I’ve referred now and then. In fact, he is one of the main reasons I started this blog in the first place.

I had been separated from my children’s father just a few weeks when Floyd and I became more than just acquaintances at church. The kids were not with me one Sunday morning, and he asked me how they were. I said they were good, they were at their dad’s this weekend (I’ve since learned that’s “code” for “I’m single.”). I guess that’s when our relationship started, because he immediately suggested I read a book that helped him get through his divorce, and the next week, he gave me a copy.

After that, we’d occasionally chat on Facebook, or say hello to each other after Mass. I had a lot of emotional baggage to unpack, and getting into a romantic relationship right away was very specifically on my “NOT To Do” list. It wasn’t even on my radar (although I can’t deny the butterflies I felt whenever he was near me). Dating was not his intention either. One of our first conversations was about how he’d made the decision early in his divorce not to get into a serious relationship again until after his kids were done with high school. He knew his focus needed to be them, and this gave me pause about my own future plans. He still had a high school senior and sophomore, and an eighth grader, making him a “safe” friend for me. Also, he was quite a bit older than me. Neither of us saw it coming.

I turns out the only things necessary for a romantic relationship to take root are time, attention, and a little bit of chemistry. By the end of the summer, it became apparent to me we’d better go on a date, because the flirting and innuendo were making us both a bit silly. I figured we’d go out a few times and it would fade, like most of my pre-marriage dating experiences.

That was five and a half years ago.

My divorce, however, wasn’t even final yet. I was not ready to be in a relationship, no matter how nice the guy seemed. I resolved to break up with him; a solid, “no contact” kind of break, otherwise we’d just end up back together. I talked to him about it, and I’m sure he tried to understand. He promised to honor my request, but he was understandably hurt.

So was I. I may have had good justifications for ending it, but what I really wanted to do was take his hands in mine and pray with him that God would guide our relationship. Praying with a partner is, in my opinion, the highest form of intimacy there is, but I avoided it. I thought I knew better. If we prayed together, I thought, it would make breaking up that much harder, that much more painful. I had been through it before and it was excruciating. I didn’t want that for him, or me.

So, on Christmas Eve 2011, when he whispered “I love you,” into my ear during the sign of peace at Mass, so softly he probably didn’t even think I heard it, I knew he meant it. He wanted what was best for me, even if that wasn’t him. And as a distraction and an outlet for all the feelings I was experiencing as a newly separated mom of three who had just had her first real post-divorce heartbreak, not with a jerk, but a truly wonderful gentleman, I started this blog one week later.

That was five years ago. Needless to say, we got back together. No contact did not work; forcing solutions never does. I’m a little embarrassed to say I don’t know how many times we got back together after needing “space.” He’s had more first kisses from me than I can remember. About two years ago, I decided to do what I had wanted to do in the beginning – turn my relationship over to God. I let go of my fears and gradually opened up emotionally. Ever so slowly, the world’s most patient man started to trust I wouldn’t walk away, and opened up more with me. I let myself fall in love with him again, as he did with me. It has been the most uncomfortable two years of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Yes, uncomfortable. One of the pieces of emotional baggage I’ve uncovered in recovering from my divorce is a deep fear of intimacy. This came as a surprise to me, because when I was married, the lack of emotional intimacy was one of my biggest complaints. Turns out, that wasn’t my ex’s problem . . . it was mine. It has taken five years of being in a relationship with one person for me to learn it’s ok to let the person I love see me weak, anxious, falling apart, angry, tired, sick, on my period, gassy, grumpy, stinky, and downright afraid. I’m still not convinced it’s ok to leave dishes in the sink while he’s here, but I leave them there as practice.

This weekend, we planned to be snowed in together. At my house. (With my dirty dishes). Dating when you have three kids leaves very little opportunity for one-on-one time for more than a few hours at a time. We’ve gone on a few trips together in the last year, but trips usually offer plenty of activities and distractions that can get in the way of emotional intimacy. 24 hours of togetherness with no distractions made my heart beat fast, and not the “good” way. The only people who get to have that much uninterrupted time with me are my children, and they have to love me. He doesn’t have to. What if I had to fart and couldn’t hold it in that long?

Apparently, it doesn’t matter if I can’t hold it in that long. We had a really great 24 hours, during which we lazed around on the couch under blankets, watched TV, ate snacks, and engaged in one of the most intimate acts two people can do together.

That’s right. We cleaned my refrigerator.

Even my mother, who isn’t timid about tackling my dirty dishes or making my kids’ beds when I’m not here, has never broken the boundary protecting that inner sanctum from outsiders.

I had condiments with expiration dates from ten years ago. There’s a certain amount of shame attached to that truth, and I shared it with a man whose opinion matters greatly to me.

I’ve unlocked a new level of intimacy with this man who for some reason still wants to be in my life after the ups and downs I’ve put him through. After letting him see the contents of my fridge, there’s little else I would keep from him. I hope we get a few more snow days together this season.

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My Life In 10 Minutes (short pieces written in about 10 minutes)

Meant To Be

Yesterday was my 15th wedding anniversary. Not our. My. We are divorced, he is remarried. According to my church I am still married, because in my church divorce is a human construct that doesn’t really exist in God’s world, and if I want to get married again, I have to prove to my church that I was never really married in the first place. Not in a legal way, in a spiritual way. I have to prove that while there was a wedding, there wasn’t a marriage.

It’s called an annulment and is not too hard to get, although it certainly sounds intimidating. It involves gathering evidence and making a written report about what happened. It’s based on the condition of both people at the time they took their vows, not about what happened afterward.

That’s good, because after I took my vows I had three children with this man, and built a home and a life with him. That’s a marriage by most people’s definition.

I got married because he asked. I got married because I believed God wanted me to. I got married because I believed it was meant to be. I still do. My three children are my proof.

But “meant to be” is not the same as “meant to last.” The God who called me into this marriage was the God who called Jesus to the cross, and He was the God who called me out of it. I believe the divorce was meant to be. And meant to last. My former husband’s baby boy is my proof, and as I watch him grow from every-other-weekend drop-offs, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my God works in mysterious, painful, beautiful ways.

Single On Saturday, Uncategorized

Still Single On Saturday?

It’s Saturday and I’m single. I think. I dunno. I’m not married. I’m confused. I have a headache.

Last week, an unmarried male acquaintance of mine, in the context of teasing me about how I can actually like cleaning my house, asked me, tongue in cheek, “Are you single?” To which I responded, “Technically, yes. Well, I’m not married. I don’t have a ring and a date or anything. I guess it depends on your definition of single.” At which point I wanted to sink uncomfortably into the floor.

My Facebook status says “In a Relationship.” Not only that, it’s an exclusive long-term relationship, not just some flavor of the month. But when I fill out government forms, I can’t check the box marked “Married.” Sometimes there’s a box marked “Divorced.” When there isn’t, I check “Single.”

Whether or not “In a Relationship” ever turns into “Married,” I will always be “Divorced.”

Or will I?

The Catholic Church is like Yoda: there is no “tried.” There is either “I do” or “I do not.”

There is no “divorce.” There is either “married” or “not married.”

My religious faith doesn’t recognize divorce. In the Catholic Church there is no such thing. Yes, the Church acknowledges the secular reality that about 50% of people who get married will eventually get a divorce decree from the state. But as far as the Church is concerned, I’m still married to my first husband. Even though he has taken a new spouse. Even though they are expecting a new baby. As far as the Church is concerned, he is a public adulterer, and I’m a private one by dating another man. Apparently the Church is less concerned about the “dating” variety of adultery, given that most divorced Catholics do at least date while remaining active members of their church community, as long as they aren’t cohabitating with their partners and aren’t publicly flaunting their presumed sexual behaviors.

Contrary to popular misconception, divorce itself is not necessarily a sin, nor does getting a civil divorce mean I’ll be excommunicated from the Church; remember, the Church says there is no such thing. But if “the fella” wanted to give me a diamond for Valentine’s Day, I wouldn’t be free to say yes. Getting remarried would be the thing that keeps me from being in communion with the Church, and as legalistic as my religion is in this regard, it is an important part of my identity that I have no desire to abandon for, say, Anglicanism.

It’s Saturday and I’m a divorced, married, single mother in a long-term, exclusive relationship. Facebook can’t handle a relationship status like that. (Wait, I forgot about “It’s Complicated.” Insert laughing emoji here.)

My unfulfilled New Years resolution for 2015 was to “simplify.” A year later, I have begun to simplify the relationship status. Last Sunday, the day after my uncomfortable relationship status exchange, I began writing the summary for my annulment request.

There are lots of misconceptions about annulment. When I talk about it with Catholics and non-Catholics alike, one of the first responses is, “What about the children?” There’s a common belief that getting an annulment is akin to publicly stating my children are illegitimate, which is a ludicrous word to describe any human life. Just as there is no such thing as “divorce” in the Church, there is no such thing as an “illegitimate life” in the Church. Nor is it saying that my children are bastards or born out of wedlock.

An annulment acknowledges the reality of a wedding while at the same time nullifying the validity of the marriage. In the Catholic Church, it takes more than mutual love, vows, rings, and a marriage decree for a marriage to be valid. Even consummation is not enough to seal the deal, although not consummating the marriage relationship is definitely grounds for dissolution.

It comes down to the Church’s definition of marriage and the conditions present at the time the ceremony took place. If the marriage is missing just one part of the definition from day one, it was never a valid marriage to start with. For example, marriage by the Church’s definition is biologically procreative, which is one reason why two people of the same gender cannot have a valid marriage in the church. It has nothing to do with discriminating against two people who love each other and everything to do with simple biology.

By definition marriage is a loving, unconditional, permanent, exclusive, procreative covenant entered into by both parties freely and without condition or impediment. The annulment process looks at whether those basic qualities were missing for one or the other of the spouses. If something was missing, like the intention to remain faithful, then the marriage was never valid in the first place, the marriage is annulled, and the spouses are free to marry again.

Any number of factors could render a marriage invalid – intoxication, mental illness, pregnancy and a father-in-law with a shotgun are just a few. When I first spoke to a deacon about annulment, he informed me that he and his wife had at least seven possible grounds for annulment. I suspect most couples do; at the very least, we all go into marriage with expectations of which we probably aren’t even conscious. For half of couples, God’s grace makes up for it and the sacrament is renewed every morning along with their vows to stay faithful for another day, into perpetuity. Having grounds doesn’t mean the marriage is destined to fail, which I suppose is why the Church continues to preside over most marriages, even the ones that start on shaky ground.

Conversely, annulment, at least in the United States, is the Church’s best pastoral, compassionate response to people whose marriages failed and who want a second chance.

I don’t know if I want a second chance. There’s a lot more to marriage than love and companionship; every decision becomes a jointly made one, and I’m used to being independent. Would I really be ready to love someone through “worse” and not just “better?” Is anyone? I have a friend who just lost the love of his life to cancer, and I am certain he wasn’t ready to love through the worst of the worse, but he did. Could I love like him?

Ultimately marriage is a choice. So should being single. Today my relationship status is not so much a choice as it is a default position. Perhaps if and when my annulment is approved and I am free to make that choice, I’ll have a better answer when someone asks, “Are you single?” Maybe I won’t stumble over my words or hide behind church legalities to avoid the joys of true intimacy and building a life together. Maybe I’ll find the grace to put “we” before “me.”

Until then, it’s Saturday, and I have a date with a lovely man I treasure, who is cooking me dinner and going with me to a bluegrass concert at the same place we met and had our first date – our Church. I can’t think of a better place to be regardless of what boxes I check on forms.

Tending the Temple

High Maintenance

Last week a male friend from work called me a “high maintenance” woman.

(Yes, he lived to tell about it, but my revenge is to immortalize him as fodder for a blog. That’ll teach him!)

To which I replied, “Any woman worth keeping is worth maintaining.”

I was shocked those words came out of my mouth. Not sure where the girl with low self-esteem went, but her replacement has a quick wit and a healthy sense of her own value.

I have never wanted to be high-maintenance. I’ve always tried to be sweet and accommodating and understanding and compassionate. I’ve been a great listener, an encourager, and not usually demanding. Although there was a time when I’d smother a guy with advice (and clothing suggestions), I’ve learned in more recent years to keep my opinions to myself unless I’m asked (most of the time). I’ve diffused conflict with humor, and I’ve done my best to meet my own needs so thoroughly that I wouldn’t need to ask for help from a romantic partner. I rarely asked for much of anything, and if I felt neglected I stuffed those feelings and made a gratitude list about my partner, or nursed a silent list of resentments and sulked in self-pity.

That doesn’t sound high maintenance does it? (All the men I know are probably laughing right now. Yeah, I hear you.)

The girl with the low self esteem also believed that a woman worth keeping was worth maintaining. But her perception was distorted. When she plugged her experiences into the formula, the answer she got was that she must not be worth keeping, since no one seemed interested in maintaining.

That kind of thinking has a self-perpetuating momentum to it.

It never occurred to her that she hadn’t ever given them the chance, or that she had a habit of turning toward good-hearted guys who simply weren’t capable of maintaining.

People are not high maintenance. Relationships, especially those worth keeping, are.

They require open communication and honesty. They require courage – courage to be ourselves, and courage to allow the other people to be themselves, exactly as they are, right here, right now.

Relationships require time. Time is an investment, and some investments are inherently risky. Time creates attachment. Even though we each have 24 hours in a day, not everyone is able to invest the same quantity or quality of time in a relationship. That doesn’t make them “bad” people; it does, however, make a relationship with them a riskier investment.

Relationships require an emotional investment, too. Some of us (yours truly included) seem hard wired to make generous donations of emotional capital only to bankrupt ourselves with emotional charity. Abundant giving to a child or to a geriatric parent or grandparent or a sick family member is laudable. But if I’m over-giving to a grown adult who isn’t willing or able to give back, that’s not healthy, in spite of what our culture and maybe even our religious faith may have taught us.

Love by its very nature is unconditional, but healthy relationships are not. I think it’s ok to expect a return on investment in a relationship between equals. But as the old saying goes, you can’t get blood from a stone, especially if you don’t even tell the stone what you expect. You can’t go to the hardware store and expect to buy bread.

Which takes us back to having the courage to accept ourselves and our “partners” exactly as we are, even if an honest assessment means we aren’t really partners at all.

In hindsight I can see that believing myself to be “low maintenance” has lead me to settle for low maintenance relationships. Wanting more is often seen as “high maintenance” in a disposable culture that values ease and comfort over effort and endurance. But I do want more. I want effort and endurance. I want relationships worth keeping. I’m high maintenance and proud of it.

What I’ve learned from meditation and journaling about this whole “high maintenance” business is that maybe I’ve acted low maintenance because I didn’t have the time or emotional capital to invest in a relationship worth keeping.

That’s a difficult place to be – knowing your value, wanting the best, but not being able to afford it. I could mortgage myself. I could go into emotional debt, but I would have to work twice as hard to pay it off, if I even could pay it off. That leaves less time to invest in that “relationship worth keeping” later down the road, when the infatuation wears off.

There’s another choice. I could invest in myself. Every bit of time and emotion I focus on myself will earn interest, or so I’m told. My parents taught me to save up for the things I want. I saved for two years while my gorgeous bedroom set was on layaway, bringing home one piece at a time. I saved for almost a decade and worked overtime to be able to afford a two week trip to Ireland, and the down payment on my first house came from my savings. I know how to do this in “the real world,” so it’s just a matter of applying those skills to my “emotional world.”

I didn’t deprive myself during those years of saving; I was just more frugal. I can be frugal with my time and my emotions. I can learn to maintain myself, which is not the same thing as never asking for help and resigning myself to loneliness. Mr. Rogers said, “Look for the helpers,” and it’s as good advice for 39 years old as it is for 6. Supporting myself means asking appropriate people for appropriate support, not being a rugged individualist boot-strapping my way through two jobs, three kids, and single parenthood.

Education is another way we can invest in ourselves. When I was first separated I read a fantastic book about rebuilding after divorce, and one of the chapters was on “growing” relationships – that is, temporary situations that help both parties grow. It’s an investment of time and emotion, just as going to college is an investment. But we don’t expect to stay in college perpetually, do we? We expect to graduate with skills and confidence that will serve us going forward.

Most relationships are of this variety, whether we admit it or not. I have a double major in depression and emotional unavailability with a minor in codependency. I just got my master’s degree in detachment with love, and I’m hoping to earn my doctorate in acceptance before this life is through. Having kids is a bit like a practicum course, and some of my dating experiences have been like unpaid internships, most valuable for the experience they provided.

And that’s where I’ll end the metaphor, because relationships aren’t like a job you qualify for with higher education, interview for with your best rehearsed answers, and use as a stepping stone to the next best paying gig. Relationships are a gift that you have to be ready to receive, and there is only one I’m guaranteed to have – a relationship with myself. And I can have a relationship with God, but only if I want it. I’m not entitled to anything else, no matter how hard I work. Everything else is a gift of grace, which I can hold only if I learn to let go of the things not meant for me and keep my hands and my heart open instead of clenched tightly in fear.

Being open requires daily maintenance. Worthwhile maintenance. The highest of maintenance.

Single On Saturday

Stepdads On Saturday

“I wonder if we’ll ever have a stepdad.” This sentence occasionally escapes my 8 year old daughter’s lips, and it takes my breath away every time.

The first time she said it, I thought she was worried that there would be a stepdad one day, but after a conversation with her, I learned that she was kind of hoping there would be. I’m not sure which is worse.

I mentioned it to a single father friend whose kids are about ten years older than mine. He said they used to ask him the same question a lot when they were little (swapping genders, that is). He suggested that the question may be her way of saying she misses having a dad at home, or missing having two parents living together. Her way of coming to acceptance about a less than perfect family situation.

There is a stepmom. She is awesome. She knits them beautiful stuff (I can’t remember the last time I handmade anything). She makes them clean up after themselves on the weekends they stay with she and their dad (it’s all I can do to get them to put candy wrappers in the trash can and laundry in the hamper). Mostly, she and their dad are doing a pretty good job of modeling what a healthy married couple looks like, and for that I am grateful. That was and still is one of my biggest regrets in dissolving my union with their father.

Ironically, my daughter’s “stepdad” comments are now my opportunity to model healthy marriage decision making. Every time the topic surfaces (this week it was in the car on the way to the baseball game) I get the chance to tell the kids that the decision to get married is a very serious one, and that even though I may have some very nice male friends, it takes more than just “niceness” or even love to make a partnership that is supposed to be forever.

This week I had the chance to take the conversation a little further. “God brings lots of interesting people into our lives,” I said. “As you get older and you want to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you’ll learn about this, too. You’ll learn what you like and don’t like about lots of different types of people, and sometimes you’ll like someone a lot as a friend, but you wouldn’t want to share a house with them. Or you might like them more than they like you and your feelings might get hurt,” I continued. My inner child was listening to the monologue, too; I wish someone had said these words to me. Not that I would have heard them.

“Here’s what I’ve learned. When God brings someone special into your life, and you start to have those feelings, there are three important things to do. First, be honest with each other. Always. Second, don’t ever change yourself to please the other person, or ask them to change for you. Finally, keep God in the middle. Pray for knowledge about what kind of relationship God wants you to have, and God will let you know.”

I wish I could say I came up with that on my own, but I didn’t. It was the advice my own “spiritual mama” gave me recently. It’s what she and her beloved did when they found themselves falling in love, and apparently it worked. They are now married, but I’m sure if God wanted their relationship to be just a stop along the journey, they would have handled that scenario with just as much grace and witness to God’s guidance.

I know some divorced people who do not allow their kids any view of their romantic lives. For good reason. Why have a revolving door into their home and their hearts? When I first ventured into post-marriage dating, I kept my romantic life completely secret. I was very skeptical when their dad wanted to introduce them to the woman who (unbeknownst to any of us at the time) would become their stepmother. After all, what if this was just a rebound? What if they got confused?

He had a different attitude. For him, keeping a relationship secret would be the worst thing he could do. If someone was special to him, he wanted to share that with the kids and share them with the person he loved. I’m glad I didn’t stand in the way of that, even if it did require me to suspend my judgement and my insecurity, and trust that whatever the outcome, my kids would be okay.

I may not be able to model a healthy marriage to my kids, but I can model healthy dating. I want to teach them there is nothing shameful about having romantic feelings for someone. I want them to know their “single mom” is also a woman who believes men are generally good. I want to demonstrate that friendship is the best foundation for “something more.” I want them to see it’s okay to feel excited about someone’s attention, and I also want them to see having a “significant other” doesn’t have to mean you “have” to get married to each other or the relationship was a failure. The only failure is in not learning from each other. I want them to know it’s normal to feel sad when special relationships come to an end, and I want to show them that goodbye can be just as healthy as a lifelong commitment if it’s done with love and grace.

It’s Saturday, and I’m a single momma. This is not the path I would have chosen for myself 15 years ago when I started dating my children’s father. But it’s the path I’m on, and I’m going to make the most of every lesson I get. For me. And for them.

Single On Saturday

Surprised On Saturday

It’s Saturday, I’m single, and love is not what I expected.

I was spending time with my “valentine” last evening – a single dad who has proven to be a wonderful shepherd into the world of divorce, parenting, healing – and this Alan Jackson song came on the radio. We paused in our conversation as he turned up the radio, because he likes the song so much.

It’s called “Remember When,” and this song encapsulates what I once upon a time expected of love. My friend likes the nostalgia and good old fashioned “country” sound of it, but listening to it makes me feel sad.

I expected everything in this song. I expected that “my first” would also be my “last and only.” I expected that when life threw curves and we broke each other’s hearts, we’d learn to trust each other again. I expected co-creating new life would bring us closer together. I expected that on any given day, if you’d asked me, I would say I would do it all again. And unfortunately, none of that was my reality.

My reality was that on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, I boycotted the holiday without telling my spouse. Which is kind of a metaphor for the rest of our marriage, when I think about it. My reality was working through my anger and resentment until there was only love left, which meant loving him enough to stop wasting his time with my unrealistic expectations, and letting go of the fantasy.

Yesterday, he posted a picture on his Facebook page from his recent remarriage. He and “Wife 2.0” as I affectionately refer to her were kissing in front of crossed Star Wars lightsabers. I love Star Wars, but there’s no way I’d have had a Star Wars themed wedding. Whatever regrets or sadness I may have about my divorce, when I look at that picture, I know in my heart that I did the right thing, freeing him to find his match. I was SO not “the one.” Love was having the courage to admit that and hurt him in the short term so that he could be free to find happiness in the long term. Love is not at all what I expected.

“Sometimes we forget the difference between symbols and substance when Valentine’s Day rolls around,” according to these wise words from the 12-step book Believing In Myself. “Romantic tokens are flattering and fun–but tokens aren’t love itself. Many of the valentine tokens being given today are inspired by a sense of obligation–because old Hubert or Billy or Sam knows what’s good for him! Some are even given to reduce guilt or to show off. Love itself costs a lot more than long-stemmed roses or even diamonds.

“Real love is measured out in steadiness, commitment, and unselfishness over the long haul. It has to do with willingness and forgiveness and just plain fortitude. It means being consistently mindful of someone else’s welfare. If we are engaged in such relationships, we are fortunate indeed, whether or not we have someone on hand today to tell us how wonderful we are. It’s love itself that’s wonderful, not the tokens.”

That sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It’s Saturday, I’m single, and I’m living that kind of love. It may not look like a marriage that withstood the test of time. But it’s in failing at marriage that I found the ability to love unselfishly, consistently reminded of another’s welfare.

I’m still sad, but I’m also glad for all the life I’ve had, when I remember when.

Musical Meditations

Where I Stood

It’s official. My kids are going to have a stepmother.

They don’t know yet, of course. But since my ex has posted photos of the ring and yesterday’s proposal on Facebook, I figure it is okay for me to talk about it. It wasn’t a surprise, and my own feelings are a bit mixed. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel. Part of me is genuinely happy for him, for them. He’s a good man and he deserves the love that for whatever reason I was not able to give. I’m also sad and still grieving the loss of the dream we both shared of a happy, intact family that would go to Disney World together and host sleepover parties for our children. I feel jealous, not of her, but of him – that he is ready to move on while I’m still working through the emotions of the divorce. I feel grateful that she seems to be a kind and caring woman, especially since she will be a stepmother to my kids. And I feel fearful. Just because.

There’s a song by Missy Higgins called Where I Stood which captures almost word for word the emotions I’m experiencing right now.

“I don’t know what I’ve done or if I like what I’ve begun.” After almost exactly two years since he moved out, I’m ambivalent about what my life looks like. On one hand, I can see that I’m a much healthier person, physically, mentally and spiritually. But I don’t always like it. I don’t like being without a partner, nor do I like the confusion and vulnerability that comes along with dating and getting to know new people. I don’t like having to share my kids with someone, even if she is very nice.

“I don’t know who I am without you; all I know is that I should.” I lost myself in the relationship with my ex-husband. It’s not something I intended to do, nor is it something either one of us recognized as it was happening. In fact, when I look back, I can see how much I deliberately fought being swept away by the relationship, acting independently and refusing to yield my own individual will to what was best for the marriage. It was in this fighting that I lost myself. I didn’t lose myself so much as hide myself. I was in a lot of pain when he and I first met, and the relationship was a perfect place to hide from the pain, from the truth about some of the decisions I’d made up to that point. Once we were married and my expectations were thwarted, as happens with every naïve newlywed, I then hid in my resentment until the pain of my resentment was greater than the pain of my past.

“You taught me how to trust myself, and so I say to you, this is what I have to do.” I don’t regret getting married, nor do I regret ending it. It was what I had to do, both times. Regardless of my current unpleasant feelings, the one thread woven through it all is peace, serenity, and trust that everything has happened exactly the way it was “supposed to.” Both of us had to learn the lessons we learned in our marriage in order to become the people we are today.

I learned that I need to wait and face my pain before I can be ready to give my heart to another person. I learned that I need to accept who and where I am, instead of pushing headlong into a life I think I want. I learned to trust – not just trust myself, but trust the prompting of the power that seems to be guiding my life. Call it God, call it the Holy Spirit, call it the Over-soul or Higher Power, but I’ve gained a faith that I can trust thanks to everything that has happened.

I don’t know what his lessons were, but he says he’s learned a lot. If he has, she’s a lucky woman to stand where I stood. He’s funny, creative, and has a lot of integrity. And excellent taste in rings. Sincere congratulations to them both, and welcome to this beautiful, broken little family.

Holey Heart

When Two Don’t Become One

As a divorced woman, this weekend’s Gospel passage is difficult for me, for obvious reasons. I’m sure I’m not alone in this either, given the number of divorced, separated, and miserably married people I know. Jesus’ statement on divorce was as black and white as it could be. Those of us who have suffered broken marriages have learned to make peace with gray area for our own sanity, and Jesus’ teaching on divorce is like a punch in my gut.

I feel enough guilt and shame already, Lord. I often feel like a failure. Why on earth would my ever-compassionate Savior be so uncompassionate about divorce? Even Moses understood that some hearts are too hard and rigid to be able to live up to the ideals of holy matrimony.

I find that the wisdom of the Church is incredibly helpful in times of spiritual confusion like this; for example, the wisdom of pairing this Gospel passage with the Genesis story about how God created Eve. I often struggle with the words of Jesus until I look more closely at the roots of His message in the Old Testament.

“It is not good for the man to be alone,” God says in Genesis. “I will make a suitable partner for him.” In reading that statement, I meditate on several words. Partner. Suitable. Make. I. For me, there is a lot of healing in these words, if I’m willing to honestly assess who I was when I married, and who I still am.

When I got married, I was not willing to be someone’s partner. I wanted someone to be my partner. There is a subtle but powerful difference. One is centered on serving, while the other is centered on being served.

When I got married, it was in many ways not a “suitable” match. There were a handful of people who told me so, and even more who said nothing. I am so grateful for those who remained quiet, because I might have otherwise lashed out at them or not turned to them for support once things got hard, for fear of the “I told you so.”

One of those who was silent was the priest who married us. My ex was not Catholic, but he knew that having a shared faith was really important to me, so he told me he wanted to convert (and I believe to this day he was sincere in that desire, if only because he wanted to get married so much). My priest wisely discouraged him from doing so until after the wedding, recognizing that in my heart I was making his religious status a condition for marriage. I would not have married him if I’d known he wouldn’t convert. I now recognize how wrong this attitude is, but at the time, I saw nothing wrong with it.

In the Catholic faith, consenting to marry based on a condition to be met in the future is not truly willing consent and potentially invalidates the marriage, which is intended to be, among other qualities, unconditional. My priest’s silence, intentionally or not, laid the groundwork for me to pursue the healing process of seeking an annulment.

Setting a condition is just one of many examples in which I was not yet “suitable.” Trust me, there were others. And it would be very easy for me to list the ways in which I perceived him to be unsuitable for me, too. Not flawed. Unsuitable. Like Adam in the story, men are often asleep while God is forming us women into suitable partners. They look awake. They walk and talk and their body parts seem to be working, if we get that curious. But emotionally and spiritually, they are asleep. (Can I get an “Amen” from the ladies on this one?)

This sleep is apparently God-induced if we are to believe the archetypal template set forth in this weekend’s version of the creation story. It is very much a part of God’s will, and it’s not and never was my job as a woman to wake that man up. My job has been to allow God to make me, and leave the waking to God.

“I will make,” says the Creator. At the point that I got married, I had spent several years making myself. The “real” Christy as I perceived her was shy, insecure, unattractive, inarticulate, and generally incapable. So around the time I graduated from college, I made a decision to change myself. I worked hard on becoming more extroverted, sure of myself, well groomed, well-spoken, and competent.

The result of this over-exaggerated perception of my flaws and overcompensation for them resulted in an arrogant, verbose perfectionist obsessed with appearance and easily losing herself in pleasing other people while neglecting and ignoring her own feelings. And I was less secure than ever. Making myself did not work; it’s no wonder the relationships into which this self-made woman entered also did not work.

Like Jesus, the Catholic Church does not recognize divorce as a spiritual reality. This is why, unlike Protestants, Catholics cannot remarry after we have been legally divorced. I may have a piece of paper from the State of Virginia saying that I am legally released from the marital partnership in which I had previously been bound, but the State of Virginia has no jurisdiction over my soul. As far as the Church is concerned, I’m just as married today as I was on the day I spoke the vows.

On the day I spoke my vows, there is no doubt a wedding took place. But a wedding is not the same thing as a marriage, that mysterious process in which two become one. Someone once explained it this way – marriage is not like addition, but multiplication. If you multiply 1 and 1, you still get 1. But if you multiply 1/2 and 1/2, you get 1/4. Without two people wholly giving themselves, the final outcome is less than what you started with, and definitely not “one flesh.”

The Holy Church assumes that both people are giving all of themselves fully and that the Sacrament “takes” until proven otherwise through the annulment process. Any of us who’ve personally gone through the agony of discerning, pursuing and obtaining a civil divorce can vouch that the process doesn’t always “take,” or we wouldn’t be pursuing this painful path in the first place. Contrary to popular belief among many people I know, divorce is NOT the easy way out.

However, getting a divorce in Jesus’ time was as simple as a man dismissing his wife for any reason, and the people to whom He was speaking in today’s Gospel used this scenario (which was sanctioned by Hebrew law) to trip up Jesus. Our Savior’s answer was intended to address the hardness of their hearts, not condemn and isolate those of us who are already hurting and grieving a broken relationship that fell far short of the First Marriage. Quite the opposite, Jesus established the authority of the Church (including the theological authority to define marriage and declare it non-existent) to bring us healing, reconciliation and unity.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what annulment is and isn’t. Even Catholics sometimes mistakenly refer to it as “Catholic divorce.” The basic gist of annulment is this – that a wedding took place, but not a marriage. There is a wonderful book that my church recommends for people who are interested in learning more about what annulment is and isn’t – Annulment: The Wedding That Was by Michael Foster. It explains in simple language the Code of Canon Law and answers the questions that divorced and even married people have about the process.

I’m just about ready to embark upon this leg of my journey. There are no guarantees about what the outcome will be. Perhaps the Church court system will decide that my marriage is valid; in which case, I can either remain unmarried and celibate, or do some serious soul-searching. Either way, I know that God is leading me every step of the journey, and that it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone on this journey. We are made for each other, out of the same “soul-stuff” from which even Jesus was made. He will give me the grace to live with an open heart, whatever the outcome.

 

Musical Meditations

The Hurt and the Healer

Usually for my “musical meditations” I just post a song and a few, brief thoughts. But I have more than a few thoughts today. I’ve been inspired to “give up” secular music for Lent and have been listening only to the contemporary Christian station, and whenever this song The Hurt and the Healer by MercyMe comes on, it hits close to home.

It calls to mind two quotes I’ve heard in the past year, which have also struck right at my core as I’ve been going through the divorce process:

“You’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you have.”

“You’ll never have a balanced life as long as you’re ‘managing’ your unbalanced life.”

When I first heard these two statements (thankfully, not on the same day!), I felt convicted. I grew up in a family that practiced thrift and “paying yourself first” so that we’d never be in a place financially where God is all we had. The idea of “hitting bottom,” whether financially or emotionally, was something to be staved off and prevented at all costs, and the way you staved off the bottom was by “managing” as best you could. Surrender didn’t appear to be an option (though I suspect, through my child’s eyes, I didn’t always see the surrendering that my mom and dad were probably doing on a daily basis).

Lately, lots of people have made comments on how well I’m “managing” as a single mom, trying to make ends meet with self-employment, juggling child-rearing, housekeeping, bill paying. I’ll admit, I seem to do a pretty good job of holding it together for the rest of the world to see. But truthfully, my life is not sunshine and lollipops. It is hard work, and it would not be possible without the grace of God at work in my life, and in the lives of my kids, my clients, my extended family, and most importantly, in the life of my children’s father.

 

Frankly, the idea that I’m “managing” kind of scares me, because I know that means I’m managing a life that is less than what God would have for me. Those times when I lose control, snap at the kids, miss a bill payment, or take a much-needed nap instead of working on a freelance project are the times when I can see just how unbalanced my life is. Those are the opportunities for me to surrender and let all my accounts go down to zero so that I can truly know that all I have is from God’s grace and not from my own efforts.

The divorce process strips us of the unbalanced life we’ve been attempting to manage. Some of us are stripped of time with our children, or the home we built together, or the financial resources we use to count on. We’re stripped of partnership and companionship and an ever-present source of comfort (even if we never availed ourselves of it). We’re also stripped of all the excuses, the person we used to blame for this or that. Mostly, we’re stripped of our dreams for the future, and stripped of all the fantasies and false beliefs that kept us “managing” for so long.

I’m not sure how anyone goes through this stripping process without God. An unbalanced life is still a life, and watching it die a slow, agonizing death is a grief that only those who’ve gone through it can truly understand. Sometimes it is exquisitely painful and scary, especially in those moments when we doubt or we don’t understand why it is happening. One could waste days, weeks, or years of life trying to “hold it all together.” Because I have a God, I don’t have to do that. I can let all the shards of a broken life and a broken marriage, all my shame and guilt and pain and fear and sadness, just sit there on the floor. I don’t have to sweep them under the rug. I don’t have to pick them up and try to glue them back together. I don’t have to make sense of the mess. I can simply surrender and ask God for a new life. Not just any new life. The life that He would have me live.

Today’s a good day. I have lots of work keeping me busy, the kids are well, and I have the support of my friends and family to sustain me when I’m weak. But please don’t think I’m managing. If I were managing, there would be far more hurt and pain than there already is. I’d be using those shards on the floor as weapons. I’ve done it once or twice as it is. No, I’m not managing. God is.