A Cheerful Countenance

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Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.

This morning I woke up to the light. Normally, of course, my day starts off in darkness; I like to get my run in before work and visit my morning buddies as well. But today is Sunday and rainy with a forecast of more snow later today. The birds are out, looking for the small morsels of food on the surface of the melting snow. Perhaps spring is near? My hope is that my run will not be disrupted by the seasonal hazard of black ice-such a drag for dedicated runners like myself!

The past week ended with a celebration. My youngest son turns 20 in a few days so we had a surprise birthday party for him last night.  The gathering was not large-just enough friends and family not to make it overwhelming for him.  For me, the night was the perfect metaphor for our present life. Laughter, love and the feeling that we were all at “home”.  As the party was winding down, I went upstairs to retrieve the coats for two of the guests. The sounds of boisterous conversation filled the house and my heart- a needed reminder that my life is beyond good.

Everyday I say the I am grateful and lucky. But there are times when I am utterly human-challenged by the things that I want more of in my life-money, time with my fiance’, etc. There are things that I want less of as well- the responsibilities of  home ownership (I know there’s a dead mouse somewhere in my basement-the stench is horrible!), less worries about the boys’ independent financial future and mine as well. And dealing with anything from my past can at times leave me with an emotional hangover.  I am sure that I could go on, but really, not one of us escapes life’s woes, worries, or trials.

The difference is simple. How we react, respond or move through conflict and challenge makes a huge difference in how life can treat us. And yes it is all about karma. I shared a meal with a friend of mine last week. We have recently gotten to know one another and he seemed surprised if not curious about my three recent stories regarding the abuse and other personal struggles that I had experienced. He has observed me consistently being cheerful and upbeat and wondered, is it real?

The winter climate makes for a contemplative season. I try to embrace it without examining my navel too much. I try  to allow for the clearing of my perceptive lenses during this season while I anxiously await the coming of spring.  In his recent blog post, “How about a Short Sermon?”, Rob Bell speaks of the difference between analysis and awareness  as he takes a second look at Psalm 118: “This is the Day that God has made.” He writes of how easy it is to become cynical about the war, poverty, divorce, addiction and betrayal that surrounds daily. He wonders,  Really, God made this? For him and for me it is not about getting stuck in the muck of life nor is it about “glossing over”  its horrors. It is about the awareness that yes it is ” rough and bloody and heartbreaking” but it is also full of beautiful potential and possibility.

February has been the month that has forced me to get down and dirty with both my present and my past and I suppose my future as well.  The process is both difficult and healthy. I had not realized that for some period in my life that corruption and abuse had become normal. Talk about glossing over! We cannot allow ourselves or anyone we care about to be maligned by others who believe that they have power and control over us. They are at ease with twisting the truth in order to not face the truth about themselves. Some of them are beyond redemption.

So what am I aware of?  That we don’t have to stay stuck.  That we have to consistently outsmart the corrupting influences in our lives. That life and love can begin anew. And is my cheerful disposition for real? Yes!

When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

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Everyday Love

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Oh, the comfort – the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

Dinah Craik, A Life for a Life, 1859

I am glad that Valentine’s Day is over! Don’t get me wrong, I am by nature a hopeless romantic. But I find that our culture celebrates a false notion of love on this particular day. Is love really about jewelry, fancy restaurants, flowers, or the most expensive Hallmark card? Like I said to my fiance’, ” I don’t need this one day for you to show your love for me.”  Moreover, it can make those individuals who are not part of a couple feel left out and even unworthy of love.

I do not believe that love can actually be defined; it is too big of an idea and feeling to be boxed in by a metaphorical dictionary. But I would like to get down to the nitty-gritty of what love really is and its importance in our routine, sometimes mundane lives. During the blizzard last week, I came across the well-known I Corinthians passage:  Love is patient, love is kind, etc.  This is recited ad nauseum at weddings and as a result (at least for me) it has lost its sincerity.  Perhaps if more of us were actually paying attention and practicing its message, we would have more long-lasting and healthy relationships with our partners, friends and family.

I first learned the power and fierceness of love when I became a mother. Children have a way of forcing you to get outside of yourself. My sons taught me the beauty of ordinary moments-holding hands, hugs, smiles and laughter. Reading books, playing games and just being together were enough for both them and me. They taught me patience (although it took a long time!). Each of my sons was born a unique individual-not a reflection of me or their father. They helped me to understand and accept them for who they are and not what our culture expects them to be as males. Through them, I learned that love is transcendental; I will never forget the look of love that my parents had  the moment they first met my sons. Love abides deep within all of us, no doubt.

I learned what love was not through their father. I Corinthians states: “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.”  In healthy partnerships, there is always room for support, rejoicing in one another’s accomplishments, listening to each other’s concerns and always, always kindness. I heard one too many times: “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” I thought that by loving him and providing him with two beautiful sons, it would be enough to ease his restless heart. But for him it was better to be irritable, resentful and to rejoice in wrongdoing.

The antithesis of abuse is love.  It is through my beloved that I rejoice in truth and true love. When we first started dating, my fiance’ said: “We can make this a vacation relationship or a normal relationship. I want to go to church with you, spend time with the boys and help you with things around the house. I want to meet your friends.” In essence, he wanted to be with me.

Everyday Love is what brings us peace. I am at once astounded and amazed by the positive energy that is brought through the simplest of acts of love. Just yesterday, as I was coming home from the movies, I noticed that two lights were left on for my arrival. My oldest left them on for me as he knew that I would be coming back in the dark. Today, his girlfriend shoveled in front of the garage so I could get things done in the house (writing this piece and baking brownies!). Everyday Love is what keeps us safe and secure. My youngest doesn’t need me to be Superwoman or to provide him with material things; he wants what was partly missing for him in the past four years. A present parent-one who listens, supports his endeavors and provides a soft place to land. As for me, I wanted a level of intimacy with a man that rose above the physical relationship ( not that I any qualms with that!). My fiance’ loves me unconditionally. He believes in me. He is humble in his generosity towards me and my sons. His Everyday Love is at once a nirvana, an oasis and one that never ends.

Somebody That I Used to Know*

Today a new sun rises for me; everything lives, everything is animated, everything seems to speak to me of my passion, everything invites me to cherish it.

~ Anne De Lenclos

Last week’s post was a cathartic experience for me.  For too long, I had an inner itch that I could not scratch.  I welcome the relief!  What is truly amazing, however, is the positive results-both outward and inward-that my reflection brought to me.  Carol Burnett says: “Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.”  I am hopeful, of course, that my words will help others who struggle with self- identity and loving themselves first.

In the short term, my life has taken on yet another layer of lightness. As we journey down life’s path, I believe it is important to peel back and let go of anything or anyone that has a negative affect on you. Say what you need to say, do what you need to do and keep on moving!

This week, two colleagues of mine shared some observations with me. One said, “I want you to take out some photos of yourself from years past up to the present so that you can see your transformation.”  She went on to say: “You have changed on a molecular level.” WHOA!! I guess I hadn’t noticed!  Still another said, “What is it that you are doing? You have a gleam and glow about you!” I attributed the latter compliment to my diet and exercise regimen and the fact that I am in a healthy relationship. I also love my job, my sons and all other aspects of my life-both big and small. But the former compliment comes from someplace else.

So I guess this is why writing last week’s post was so relevant. By writing about the person who is a link to my past, I have been able to come a little more forward about the trauma of  the emotional and verbal abuse that was at the root of my marriage. I am not ready to actually share all of the details about it; although many of my friends and family have known those bits for a long time. It actually took until my marriage was over to fully admit what had happened. Still worse, the boys have shared what they remember about their father- what he said to me and about me and how he treated me.

I had a bit of an epiphany earlier this week. It came as a result of some issues between my youngest son and his girlfriend. Luckily, they both  deeply care about one another-enough to work through some problems together and seek my advice as well. Unfortunately, some of the problems that both my sons have had with their father come into play in their relationships at times. They deal with it as best they can while at the same time  fear becoming like him. A tough place to be for sure!

But the situation between my son and his girlfriend got me thinking about the repetitive pattern that abuse can sometimes take if it is  not squelched from the beginning. And for me, this goes back to my experiences during my marriage. At its deepest level, abuse comes from a sense of abandonment. At some point in a potential abuser’s life, they have been left either physically and/ or emotionally bereft by a significant relationship. Over time, this can lead to a lack of trust in all relationships, but most especially when there is a significant other involved. Those who feel abandoned carry the pain of those past (and sometimes present) hurts with them. Often, it can also be a form of grief over a broken relationship. If not addressed, the pain can and will manifest itself in anger-almost always towards the one or ones you love but never at the person or people who hurt you in the first place. Worst still, the anger can lead to abuse-always towards the ones closest to you. If the abuse continues and professional help is not sought, the abuser becomes a permanently broken and damaged person.

And this is what almost happened to me. I was abused by my husband slowly and insidiously over the course of the marriage. Over time, I become an increasingly angry person who took out some of her pain on her children. I was an anxious and panic ridden woman who was nearly broken by my abuser. Thankfully, I got help before it was too late. As I began to stand up for myself and not project my hurt onto my sons any longer,  I began to advocate more for my own needs (and those of the boys). But the abuse got worse. He became increasingly silent, secretive and neglectful. As the three of us drew closer together, he grew further away from us. He was absent a lot-especially on weekends. And when he was home, he was never “present” and was very often angry upon his return from his weekend excursions.

So he decided to leave. The next 14 months were horrendous but I was stronger than I thought I was. I continued to get help as did my sons. Their dad continued to devolve and make poor decisions. My youngest son moved in with him. He needed to be with his father-in his mind if he lived with him he would not be left again. Over time, he got to know his father on his own terms. My oldest, on the other hand, tells me he figured out his father when he was fourteen- two years before he left! And now my youngest is back with me after enduring the same abusive situation as I once did.

And here is where we’ve landed. My youngest is struggling with the pain of a broken and hurtful relationship with his dad. He doesn’t like how he feels and wants to be better. So, he is getting help-Hooray!  His girlfriend is wonderful; she wants to go with him if he needs her. He knows that he is not a bad or even a broken person. He knows that he has a big heart and  wants more than anything to become a whole man.

You may ask yourself,  “What is this layer of  lightness that she is speaking of?”  Well, because of today’s blizzard, I was able to enjoy some very lovely extended time with my Starbucks friends. Per usual, the link to my past appeared ( she is my ex-husband’s current girlfriend) but  I was not at all bothered. Shortly thereafter, I noticed that she was speaking to a man-nothing unusual- and this man was with a young girl. It looked like they had come in from the bagel shop next door. Their conversation continued until they departed, passing my group as they exited.  Then it occurred to me-this man was my ex-husband! I had not recognized him at all!

I had just experienced a fantastic breakthrough. A feeling of complete emotional disconnect. Never in my life would I have ever thought that I would not recognize the father of my children-a person that I had been with for 22 years.  It was wonderfully uplifting, joyful and empowering. It means that I have come to a peaceful place with the pain of my abusive marriage. ( I want the same for my youngest son and hope that someday he can forgive his father).

The person I was when I was with him no longer exists. She is just somebody that I used to know.

* With thanks to Gotye!

On Being a Bold Woman

Credit: interviewsaloud.comOne of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go. – Sheila Murray Bethel.

On a recent morning, I was enjoying my usual morning visit at my local Starbucks, chatting with the staff and the other regulars whom I see daily. The store has always been a positive community connection for me. I can honestly say that I have never met someone that I have not liked having a conversation with-even if it is just for five minutes.

Beginning last spring, however, a person with a link to my past began to frequent the establishment at the same time as me. I tried not to make too much of these “coincidences”, but I did feel forced to be on my guard. Lately, the frequency of this person’s appearances has increased and my sons have even  found themselves in uncomfortable and insinuating situations with this person in the recent past.  So needless to say, when this person was in close proximity to a conversation I was having last week, I was not pleased.

I want my morning experience at the store to be one of the highlights of my day. And I want to handle negative circumstances with grace. But I could not help but feel that this person was acting boldly. And I could help but think that her “boldness” had negative connotations attached to it.

Later, at work, I began to question my thoughts on this feeling. So, I asked my colleagues to tell me what they think being a bold woman means. Still later, I asked other women and men outside of work. Their responses helped me to rethink my own reaction to my experience. More importantly, they helped me to redefine and refine the other person’s actions more appropriately.

So here goes (with credit to Jen, Jeff, Pam, Art, Gretchen and Pat and any others I may have forgotten):

A bold woman is authentic and committed to her own personal values. She stays true to who she is. A bold woman is loaded with courage, understands the risks at hand but still takes a leap of faith. A bold woman never settles; she keeps moving forward even when it is not popular. She is daring in the face of cultural limits, expectations and conventions. A bold woman is a person with only the highest of confidences and a will strong enough to defeat any obstacle or achieve any ambition. A bold woman does not apologize unnecessarily and isn’t afraid to be called a bitch. ( How many times have you done the former and been afraid to be the latter?). She stands firmly in her beliefs with an unwavering heart.

A bold woman is confident in her own skin. A bold woman inspires others to be awesome. A bold woman knows her strengths and weaknesses, but chooses to be the best she can be at all times. A bold woman speaks up for what she believes in. A bold woman will not let others control her fate nor her emotions. A bold woman is proud of herself. A bold woman does not make excuses. She takes responsibility and makes a plan to be better every day. A bold woman inspires, not just with her words but with her actions as well. You can feel a bold woman’s energy from across the room; a bold woman knows the power of silence. But, in the face of a challenge, a bold woman says: “Bring it on!” A bold woman is not offensive, rude, or condescending. She inspires others to be the best they can be.

I allowed myself to fall victim to a false cultural perception of what it means to be a bold woman. I am a big believer in the hidden messages or lessons that can come from challenging encounters, situations, or people.  The recent spate of “accidental circumstances” have shown me that this person is far from being bold.  You can draw your own conclusions regarding her character traits. However, I am grateful that she helped remind me of what a bold woman really is. AND she called attention to the fact that I AM A BOLD WOMAN.  For me it is all that truly matters.

“I’m my own sovereign nation, dedicated to a transformation…”

from “It’s Alright” by Dar Williams