Severed Ties

I remember going to my childhood church for the first time, and I remember feeling excited and energized by the community and the spirit. My mom was proud. Up until this point, I had been a ‘half-breed’. My dad was Baptist, and my mom Catholic. But now that my dad had passed, I was going to be raised Catholic. There is nothing wrong with that. It was not common and sometimes not accepted in my small Southern city, but it was my destiny growing up. And I dove in, full hearted. 

I remember, over the course of the next several years, throwing myself in. I wasn’t only prayerful, but I was the ONE in my household that made sure we prayed and went to church each Sunday. I think, in retrospect, that it was good for my mom. She was everything, but she had already been through so much, that maybe she needed that extra push. I was happy to respond, and happy to push.

Some Sundays, we would be too late for Mass and would just attend our rightful service at Cracker Barrell. But most Sundays, we were there, albeit in the very back. But we were there nonetheless. I never once considered how difficult it had to be for her as a single mom. When you’re surrounded by families in a church where ‘divorce’ is so frowned upon. But my mom wasn’t divorced. She was a widow.

When she finally dated my future stepdad, it was difficult for her to take the Eucharist, and I couldn’t understand.

So when I was twice divorced, and my mom was dying and made sure I took the Eucharist, I took it seriously. I obeyed.

I have raised both sons in the Church so far. But with my second ex-husband AWOL, and me engaged, I knew there was no being accepted by ‘my Church’. I didn’t tell anyone, because I am not close with anyone in my Parish. But finally, my conscious got the best of me. So when I did finally tell the youth director that my kiddos wouldn’t be coming back and that I wouldn’t be able to teach, I thought that maybe someone would reach out. That isn’t what happened.

I was passed by. I feel given up. I feel like anything I did for the church in the last 30 years was fruitless. With two husbands and a stepfather converted, not to mention a fiance totally on board to convert, I said my last goodbyes.

So maybe churches, like people, are temporary. Maybe they walk into our lives when we most need them or they need us, and then they depart and make room for something more.

So with my kids and fiance in tow, I am out in the universe searching – just a girl with a rosary asking to be accepted.

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Favorite Things

Church.

Filling  my spiritual bucket, making my eyeballs sweat,

My lungs quiver, my heart bleed with anticipation and eagerness and energy,

And Holy spiritedness.

My youngest son’s laughter, belly up, whole hearted, white lights & lollipops,

And all the sugar his little body can hold.

My oldest son’s nostalgia, and maturity – his passionate guitar playing, song-writing,

Singing, wailing, with all the rhythm and soul his body can hold.

The two of them experiementing, working together, chatting, bonding, loving

When I thought they had lost each other.

My Hayley dog running back into my arms after taking her own little 

Rebellious adventure.

But she’s so glad to be home. And I’m so glad she made it.

Long solo hikes immersed in leaves, and breeze, and nature’s unconditional

Peace of mind – a few hours and moments of being present with 

Beauty – unspoiled and lovely – innocent and tender.

The smells of dessert candles, amongst a shimmering glass of wine, a lit-up tree,

Dressed with memories of years and love and Christmases with mom and dad and us.

And I am content and at peace with God’s plan for me, for us, and for the love

He keeps pouring into my heart especially when I feel complete emptiness.

We fall on difficult times so that we can savor the easy ones.

We fall so that we must depend upon Him to lift us up…

Just one more time.

.

In We we Trust

The ego is real. The want is real. We are all onlies in that we want what we want and need what we need. When someone we love isn’t being loving enough, thoughtful enough, or respectiful enough, we’ve…well had ENOUGH. As a woman twice divorced, I can honestly say that I am the worst when it comes to throwing in the towel when I’m hurt. My first reaction to getting my feelings hurt is to swiftly speak my mind, walk away, and ‘block’ my significant other as quickly as I can before he retaliates. This is my pathology. It’s what I learned from my biological parents, and it’s also what I learned from my mom and step dad. Therefore, this is the thing I did in all of my relationships – be they marriage or romantic relationships. And I’ve done it forever.

For a couple of decades now, I’ve lived under the assumption that I could never be loved enough. That while I am not all ‘that’, no one would ever be good enough, love hard enough, or be sensitive enough to give me what I need. I’ve also had a little insight into the fact that neither of my marriages failed solely because of the other person. I had to have something to do with the failure because ‘it takes two to tango’ afterall. And two to tangle. 

I just didn’t know why until now. 

I’m 33 pages into a book called ‘Love & Respect’ by Dr. Emerson Eggerich, and I can see clearly already. I haven’t respected enough. Like…ever respected enough. 

I’m not going to lie. It hurts to realize this. On the one hand, I’m usually quick to take blame in most situations, because (I think) if I am to blame, I can fix. There is solace in the fixing. There is solace in knowing I have some sort of control. There is not solace in knowing that maybe, possibly, probably, I could’ve fixed this stuff because this stuff went to hell in a handbag.

But on the doorstep of my third and final marriage – whenever it does happen – I am handed this gift of knowledge. I haven’t respected enough. And now I am in it forever – heart and soul, forever and for always. It’s the perfect time. It’s God’s time, and God is good. Always.

This book, it must be said, was brought to me by way of carrier pigeon. It literally landed on my doorstep by ‘Mr. And Mrs. Anonymous’. No one will admit to having delivered it, and the extra beautiful part is that they left not only a copy for me but for my wonderful fiance as well. It does drive me crazy that I don’t know where they came from, but I am grateful to the bottom of my oblivious little heart because I know this was completely planned by the great Lord above. And I know this because the message of ‘I don’t respect enough’ has been told to me before. Once.

In my second marriage, my husband became severely and intensely addicted to pain pills that he was not prescribed, and our marriage suffered greatly. We lost everything. We tried Christian counseling, and I was a huge fan. We were given books on how to be an excellent wife and an exemplerary husband. I read my entire book within the first week. My husband skimmed over his first few pages and declared that he ‘got it’ before we even darkened the door to our 2nd visit. 

While our counselor was very hard on my husband because of his addiction and manipulation, he did also make mention that our boys’ lack of respect for my husband was due in huge part to my lack of respect for my husband. That recognition and awareness paused me, stopped me in my tracks. I remember thinking ‘Oh no!!! This is on me!!’. And it was, in part. And while I thought I had learned an invaluable lesson, it didn’t save my marriage, but only because my husband was too far gone. 

In reading this book now, the memories flood into my head like a dam has broken down deep inside of my ego. This is on me.

My fiance and I haven’t had it easy. He’s a now 42 year old bachelor who is scared to death of failure in a marriage. Add to that the company of two kids – 16 and 10 – and you have complete reluctance and hesitation. Is this because of his lack of love for me? NO! Does it feel like that? YES! Do I disrespect him because of my lack of awareness of his love for me? YES. Do I mean to?…….NO.

But this is normal. It is sooooo completely normal that this book that I am reading addresses all of it. A woman needs to feel loved, and her man needs to feel respected. And yet, when a woman feels a lack of love, she disrespects. When a man feels a lack of respect, he turns cold and leaves his woman feeling unloved. This is why we need awareness and communication. We need to understand that a lack of Love and Respect are at the root of all of our misunderstanding and hurts. 

So I challenge myself, and I challenge my readers to acknowledge this code, and recognize that we cannot blame one another. We both have work to do, love to give and respect to pay. Relationships are all about relating, not sacrifice. Love is about leaving your ego at the door and loving to the depths of our souls. Do that. Love with all your might, and respect with all your mind. That is the journey. The reward is a beautiful and untimely union of souls who understand. It takes two. 

Comfort

We all like our comfortable cozy beds and the lure of deep sleep. We love the warmth and security of sweaters, dressing in layers, and the solace brought about by a well-made bonfire in the autumn chill. Most of us, I’ve found, love to sneak into our covers cold only to drape ourselves with enough blankets to heat a small village. We seek balance. We all do. It’s human nature. Life events like weddings, beginning a new job, giving birth, saying goodbye when a loved one dies, divorce, starting school – all of these things are scary because they challenge us. These life changing events feel like getting into a cold bed naked, only to be further chilled by a strong artic wind. There is nothing comfortable about change, and yet there is nothing as debilitating as stagnation. When everything in you tells you to step out of that comfortable place, and something puts a great big halt on that possibility, well let’s just say – that’s just about as uncomfortable as it gets.

Why? Because we were built for growth. We were built to evolve and change and bend in the direction of where God intends for us to be, and when we can’t go, we suffer. I remember thinking I was stuck in my life more times than I care to admit. I remember thinking we were all going to end up living in a box because I was married to a drug addict that just wouldn’t stop until everything was gone. And yet, just when everything but our condo that we rented from my mom was gone, I made the decision to get us out. The boys and me needed to survive, and that was our only hope. I had to break vows after years of lying, making excuses, and giving every chance known to man. We got out. We moved our lives forward.

I remember feeling I was stuck in a job – in the family business I had helped build. It was out of obligation to my mom, who would’ve felt terrible if she had known how miserable I was. Just as I was about to throw in the towel, my step sister said those magic words that led to one of the biggest changes I had ever made. She said simply ‘Can’t you sell the business?’. And in spite of my own doubts and fears, and without knowing my next step, I did just that. Ultimately, I landed in a position within a University and was surrounded by people that empowered me.

The things that scare us the most, the things that force us out of our own comfortable blankets, are the things that were meant to take us away from misery and carry us into peace and contentment. But first, we must be uncomfortable, and use the power of Faith to cling to – for better or for worse. We never know what lies ahead if we never take the first step. Life is about movement, and balance, and belief in a power much greater than ourselves. We were built for change. Life is change and love all wrapped up in a big messy bow. Embrace that. 

Skating Story

Lacing up.

The boot shot up to the bottom fold of my calf muscle and clung to the plate and wheels by bolts, but when I laced up, these funky skates became my very own superpower. I may have been alone at home. I may have felt small and insignificant as a sprouting 9 year old, but these skates acted as my security blanket that also happened to double as my cape. With them on, I could go places. I could move faster, stand taller, and do jumps and spins that lifted me and empowered me into being an extraordinary being. Not everyone could do what I could do.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. There were probably very few skaters with less natural talent than me. I wasn’t born into it. I wasn’t born to skate. I wasn’t built for it. I had more curves. I was bulkier, and my legs were short – but strong. All I knew was that when I started on this journey, 3 long years ago, I couldn’t keep me feet beneath my body long enough to flee from the side wall. I felt just like a slimy scaley oversized fish flailing about on a sheet of ice. But that didn’t stop me from wanting to be a gracefully, flowing, flowering skating princess. Every fiber of my being wanted it, and so it would be.

I worked hard, listened to everything my coaches told me to do – begrudgingly at times – but still. I knew what had to be done, and I did it, no matter how many times I fell. No matter how many times I lost, and came in 25th out of 25. I knew someday, it would all pay off. I just had to want it badly enough. That’s what my coach told me, day after day, practice after grueling practice. And while my more talented friends cut-up and bantered their way through, I remained focused on becoming great. 

Practices were quiet. I remember soft piano music playing over the speakers, the doors open to the springtime morning air, and Saturday mornings with their promise of freedom and whispers of innocent surrenders. I remember being in the moment, lost in concentration. For hours on end. The smells of polyurethane and wood floors, the gluey-inky smell of skate polish and sweat, the smoky 1980s air, because nobody knew second hand smoke was not the most glorious thing for skater lungs.  I remember the aches of muscle fatigue, and walking out into the 40 degree air wearing nothing but a skating dress, hose, and flourescent orange jelly shoes. I remember my first win, and I remember the last loss. But what I most remember is that I was surrounded by support – my skating family was everything, and my belief in working through your limitations became the most crucial lesson I could’ve possibly learned to live THIS life.

The Mid-Life Crisis

She sits alone in the dark at 40. Her fingers -sore from stitching, but she takes such pride in her beautiful creations. She can make anything beautiful with her hands as if the Creator himself worked through her. She feels a little older each day, but her heart – oh her heart – is young and so full sometimes that it becomes heavy with worry. How to raise these two boys without their father. How to make ends meet without her other half. She may have taken care of him as the Cancer grew. She may have tended to his every need, and gotten up with him through all hours of the night, pleading with him to just sleep. She may have prayed more than anyone ever knew, that he could just feel good again, that he could just be okay. But the day he died, a piece of her died along with him. And now she’s here with the weight of the world, with two loving boys. And they’re a couple of hands full, and she’s a big heart full of determination. She loves Christ, and that Son will see her through.

A half a lifetime later, another mother sits alone in the dark at 40. Her mind is strong and resilient. She’s made hard decisions along the way, but her young business is just beginning to blossom in the midst of her turbulent home life. Everything her mind and heart touches turns to gold, as if the Creator himself painted it that way Himself. She doesn’t just make it, she thrives. Her spirit is bold and courageous beyond measure. How to raise this daughter without her father. How to keep her safe and protected. How to nurture her in the same way her father once did when he was healthy – when they were two peas in a ripe old pod. She may have tended to his every need, and gotten up with him through all hours of the night, pleading with him to just sleep. Pleading with him that he didn’t really need to get dressed and get driven around the Smokies. She had a small company to run in the morning, afterall. She may have prayed more than anyone could have imagined, and journaled, and then prayed some more. She wanted him to watch their daughter grow, because it’s all he said he was staying alive to do. But she knew he didn’t have long without kidneys, with one leg, and with the Diabetis eating away at his organs – one by one. But the day he died, a piece of her died along with him. And now she’s here with the weight of the world squarely upon her shoulders, and one 11 year old daughter. But she loves Christ, and has always leaned upon Him. That Son will see her through.

Again, a half a lifetime later, and I’m the mother who sits alone in the dark at 40. My hands are busy typing, but nowhere as busy as my mind. I don’t have the sewing skill of my grandmother, or the business mindset of my mother, but I’ve also made some hard decisions along the way. I have tools, resources, legacies. I am equipped with the strength to carry on, because they did. And while I’ll never be able to create like my mamaw, or be as financially successful as my mother, I learned the best skill on earth from both of them – the superpower of being a solo mom. While my oldest son still has a wonderful Father and stepmom in his life, my youngest does not. I didn’t know at the time, but 40 would be the last we would hear from Ethan’s dad. At least so far, a year later. And while I am up for the challenge, I must admit that I am deeply saddened by the disease that has taken this amazing dad from our child. I know my mom and mamaw felt much the same way, and I understand both of them now more than ever because of my own journey. I know now, as they did. A piece of me died the day he made his hard choice. And now I’m here, with the weight of the world on my shoulders, and one son with an absent father. But I love Christ, and follow him.That Son will see us through.

Disconnected

Very few aspects of my life have remained stable, but hiking is one of the few. The older I grow, the more connected I feel with nature. On my annual birthday hike, I spent the entire four hours without earbuds, without social media, and without ‘notifications’. For the most part, there weren’t that many other hikers on the trail, and there were no noises aside from the tree frogs, flies, and the occasional chipmunk. 

When I hike, the world of people disappears entirely, and in fact – when I come across other hikers – I’m almost always shocked out of my quiet world and frightened. Although most people would not describe me as an introvert, I very much am. Don’t get me wrong, admittedly, I love people. I love hearing their stories, listening to their curiosities and the wonderful bonding and connection that happens when walls disappear and true spirits are revealed. Oftentimes that’s not the experienece, but even a good banter & humor, like laughing from the gut, laughter spewing from the nostrils kind of humor takes over and there’s a similar bond through pure comedy and sarcasm. I love that too.

But when the world is quiet, and it’s just me and the trees, and roots jutting up out of the earth, testing my balance – when there are butterflies directing my path and turtles underfoot testing my agility and focus, the world is small and huge all at once. And I am enough. There is no competition. There is no failure. There are no unkind words traversing my mind, telling me I’m not thin enough or smart enough or strong enough. There is only me

The trees,

The nature,

And we are enough. We were all created by the Creator himself, and no one here has any ill intent. No one here is dishonest. You get what you see. You see what you get. There are zero expectations, and the only real hope is that I make it back down the mountain before the heel blister becomes unbearable. If my grandmother hiked this same mountain on her 41st birthday, it would’ve looked much the same. There is no technology, no construction, no ‘progress’, no innovations. Nature is simple and, while it also changes, it is strong and tempered and well adjusted to those changes because well…it’s had many rodeos, and ‘knows’ what to expect. 

There is something to be said about the first auburn leaves of Fall peeping through in mis-September. That tree doesn’t concern itself with beauty or whether or not I notice such beauty. It’s just doing it’s thing, unaware of the awe it induces in this over-zealous and dramatic nature girl. And that’s true beauty. Truly, something I’m unsure if I will ever know or possess. 

In a perfect world, in my heaven on earth, my brain- my thoughts- would stop that endless comparison between ‘me’ and ‘they’ where ‘they’ always win. They are always happier, fitter, thinner, more successful, more loving, smarter, and more together. I’m not sure where that all began, but I can tell you for a fact that those thoughts – or agreements – run deep in me. When I actually get to know people, and they become my friends, I generally see them as even. more beuatiful no matter what, because the more transparent you are, the more you are like nature in my eyes. 

So we all need to disconnect from time to time, in whatever form that takes for each of us. We need to go to that place that allows us to simply be – imperfect, flawed, sometimes mindless, other times spuradic and neurotic – but whatever we are, we just are. Because that is where we find God. That is where the newborn version of ourselves meets the older version, and everything in between in inconsequential. 

If you are that person who can calm those thoughts and keep them linear and organized, you are a superhero in my eyes. Even though I have meditated daily for at least 2 years, this is not my strong suit. But what quieting the mind does do for me is that it somehow STILL resets my mind and adjusts my mood and attitude, because meditating is much like hiking in the sense that the outside world grows quiet and it’s just me and my thoughts.

So I challenge you to disconnect. Quiet the world. Listen to what’s going on in your own head, with your own thoughts. You’re probably not going to solve the problem of world hunger, and wars, and political unrest, but you will solve the problem of being a scatter brained human struggling with all of the things that are absolutely useless, like competition and comparison. No one else is you. And you are enough. Like the flowers, and trees, and turtles, you are your own special version of creation. Connect with the noise that is you, and connect with the spirit who created you. Perfectly. 

Judy July

The day we said goodbye, on Tuesday July 30th @ 12:22 pm was the worst day of my life. We surrounded you, touching you, saying the Lord’s Prayer, just as you had wanted. I was at the head of the table, hovering above your face, watching your soul depart with your last breath. I couldn’t imagine life without you in it. I hadn’t yet thought about how you wouldn’t be here to guide me anymore, about how you wouldn’t be at the other end of my phone, or how you would no longer be popping into the office unannounced with some new idea on how to grow the business. I hadn’t yet thought of how my boys would no longer have their grandma Judy, or how our garage sale Saturdays had finally come to a bitter end.

Yet you had asked me, beforehand – for weeks, to be your ‘hero’, and talk everyone else into accepting your end. So I did, but somehow these four years later, I have not accepted it. Maybe I never will. Because your voice still steers my every direction even more loudly than it did in life. Don’t get me wrong. I have no regrets besides the fact that you left far too early. I was one of the lucky ones who got to be there at your end, and comfort you until you didn’t know any better. I got to joke with you about what you would wear to your ‘big day’, and paint your nails for your own funeral before you went into Hospice. Oh, and that Hospice, that has recently closed.

And yes, life has gone on, and a million changes have happened since your departure because your courage – well, you passed that on to me. That is the best inheritance a daughter could ask for, especially a daughter who struggled with decisions her whole life. Mom. You were not just the glue that held everything together, you were the heart. You pumped us all full of gratitude and zest for life. You made us all want to leap out of bed in the morning and take on the world (I mean, after those dreadful teenaged years). I will never stop being grateful for your life, because you not only gave me life, but you taught me how to live it. I will forever be in your shadow, living to make you proud, because in the end – I understand that you made me who I am today, and you will forever be my greatest blessing.

To my Church

Dear Church,

I was raised to believe in you, believe in your promises and in your grace. I was raised to believe that the direct route to God was through Christ, and through you. I committed to you, and committed my children to you. But I need a divorce.

In order to marry my second time, I had to absolve my first marriage. My first marriage happened first without you, but my husband decided he wanted to be a part of this, and so we married under your shadow and through your promised. But we had to divorce, because he wanted to kill me.

And so we did. We divorced. When our child was less than three, we annulled our marriage. He married another and I was engaged, and it was the right thing to do.

When that marriage also failed, because he chose drugs, I knew that my Faith life was being challenged directly.

Now that I am engaged again, I feel the need to take a stand against you. Not against God, and not against Christ, but against my Church. The Church that has always protected me, now feels more like a threat, and something that has isolated me from it’s comfort and love and solace.

I have been disowned. My 2nd husband is AWOL and there is no way of absolving that marriage. Even though my future husband is ‘all in’ with the idea of conversion, I know that it’s an impossibility. And that is okay.

At some point, we must surrender and realize that every closed door is an opportunity to something more, somewhere closer to where we are meant to land. So it is. And so it is.

So while I love everything you have been in my life, I must say farewell, and understand that THIS is what was meant for me and my journey. To have my Faith tested so directly, and feel only closer to my God, somehow that makes it all make sense. And I know that this is where I am meant to land – finding our own way without the direction of my mother, but with the Faith and guidance of My God.

Left Behind

I remember being 7 years old, in flanel footed pajamas, with a Dorothy Hamill haircut – blonde version – and a big half-toothless grin. I remember that it was well past bedtime, maybe even as late as eleven, when I stood there peaking around the living room corner, just watching. 

At that moment, I wanted to be all grown up so badly I could almost taste the freedom. I didn’t want a bedtime. I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted a job because then I could go to McDonald’s for lunch and drink that yucky coffee stuff all day OR I could eat as many french fries as my paycheck would buy. Whatever, right? I mean being a grown-up meant everything. No limits. No rules. Nobody telling me what to do.

I remember also that my parents caught me watching. There they were with their friends, having a late play date, just sitting around playing cards and laughing with not a care in the world. There was nothing wrong with that, and certainly nothing I couldn’t also do if only I could join. For the most part, my parents were super cool like that. They would catch me up, and let me join in, no matter what time. I didn’t really play cards. I mostly just liked listening to everybody’s stories. By myself, I was a shy little bird, but with people I trusted – like my parents – I had social super powers and could always transform into the life of the party. 

I ate that feeling for breakfast, or at least I wanted to. I loved being a part, and loved not feeling that I was missing out. 

At slumber parties, I was the last one to fall asleep, and the first awake before the sun. I was terrified that I would awaken with shaving cream all over my face or toothpaste between my toes if I even dozed off for a minute. So I didn’t. Plain and simple, just like that, I didn’t sleep. 

Some things never change. I still fear being left out. I still dread missing out on the fun, but I especially hate missing out on good conversation. I still eavesdrop in restaurants because of that, and still have a hard time focusing on just one conversation in social situations. I mean, what if I learn something, or have something really funny to add? That would be just terrible not to be in the right place at the right time. And the right place is always where conversations are happening, right?

Then again, maybe not. I don’t know. Conversations can become fights or confrontations, so they’re not always positive. I get that too. The thing is, I think that being an only makes us want to a part of something even more than folks with siblings. I think we have an intrinsic desire to be a part of something more than ourselves, no matter how much we enjoy our alone time. Then again, maybe this is an only/ orphan thing? I don’t know. Really I don’t. But I do know that I never eat lunch at McDonald’s or eat as many fries (or any really). I do drink the heck out of some coffee though, because I still want to be the last one down.