Monthly Archives: December 2013

“Another One Bites the Dust” #30

Today is New Year’s Eve.  As I sit here in my down-sized, divorce house in Colorado (about half the size of my married home in Illinois–the home my then-husband designed and had built for our growing family), I’m staring at all the clutter, toys, video games, books, suddenly out-of-place Christmas decorations and just stuff lying around what seems to be every square inch, and I really wish I already started drinking.  Yes, I admit it.  I wish I had a nice, super-friendly, alcohol-induced buzz humming through my body, making my brain a little fuzzy, a little less perfectly clear and present in this mess of a house.  But I didn’t, so I don’t.  What I do have is too much dust on the surfaces, too many dishes in the sink and too much dog hair on the dull wooden floors.

In 2010, I counted down the minutes until 2011 by crying on my couch in my roomier, cleaner, dust-free married home in Illinois.  I had a better idea of what I faced:  a year-long deployment to Afghanistan, a divorce, and a year away from my children.  In 2011, I counted down the minutes to 2012 from Afghanistan, happy in the knowledge that I would be heading back to the states in a few weeks, and strangely secure in the knowledge that I would be starting over in the new year.  Last year, I counted down the New Year from a party in New Orleans with my great friend, Varner.   We dressed up, went out, drank responsibly, and I danced for the first time in a very long time.  It was fun, and I was excited about the prospects of 2013 because, before my trip, I went on a date with a guy from Denver and I had excitement about possibilities.  My excitement wasn’t authentic though; it was me trying to keep up with my ex who was getting married in a couple of months.  I wasn’t ready and still had personal work to do.

New Year’s is marketed as the time of the year when we should take account of the past and celebrate the hope of the future.  But what happens if the unknown is just too unknown, you know?  Yesterday, I drove to the mountains to do some snowboarding before my kids came home from their weekend with their dad.  The powder was nearly perfect:  soft, ample, fluffy–what the seasoned riders call “pow.”  Feeling brave, I decided to hit some of the trails that I hadn’t explored yet–it was time to branch away from the beginner “greens” to the more experienced “blue” trails.  There’s one lift at Winter Park called the Panoramic Lift.  It takes riders to the top of the mountain to overlook the brilliance of the peaks at over 12,000 feet above sea level.  After clumsily exiting the lift to the top of the world, I pulled out my cellphone to snap a picture and was disappointed to see the coveted panoramic view of everything below blocked by an unmoving, cloudy haze.  With the exception of the top of the ridge, all I could clearly know was the Parsenn Bowl, what resembled a spoon’s scoop out of the mountaintop.  After waiting patiently for the 20-minute ride to the top of the summit, I couldn’t see anything below me, and now I had to dive down into it.  That’s a bit what New Year’s Eve looks like to me this year.

12,600 feet

Marketing picture of 12,600 feet–what I didn’t get to see

This year, I’m cleaning my cluttered house (or going to be), taking stock of 2013, and trying to see past my own cloudy haze into 2014.  Over the last few years, I’ve been sowing, rebuilding, healing, thinking, crying, starting and starting and starting over and over again.  What’s in store for 2014?  This is probably the part where my readers (all 20 of you) expect me to say that I’m confident in the future, but, truthfully, I don’t feel anything for 2014 yet.  I don’t feel sad like I did in 2010, or brave like I did in 2011, or falsely excited like I did in 2012.   I feel…nothing.  Maybe I’m too tired from sowing.  And a little impatient to see some buds sprouting through the packed earth.  My faith calls me to remember that I’ve been consistently led through darkness in my past to the light, but I can’t see any light…yet.  So, I keep coming back to my time on the mountain yesterday, when I stood at the top, and I was certain of one thing:  I had to get back to the base somehow.  I had my board strapped to my feet, and I knew how to use it.  Regardless whether or not I could see what was beyond the cloud cover, I did have what I needed to ride my way to where I could see things more clearly.  I stood up, pushed off and started the descent.

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My views on the way down

Even though I couldn’t see anything clearly from the top, with every inch I rode down, the paths became clearer.  I may not have been able to take the picture I wanted, but the scenery that surrounded me was breathtaking, and when I got to the bottom I could look back up the slopes and catch my breath at the distance I’d covered.  I’m holding onto that experience as 2014 looms ahead of me.  I have what it takes to face the unknown, and the clouds can’t stay there forever.  Some day, they will move.  For now, it’s time to get back to work.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Along for the Ride” #29

My friend Holly is responsible for my addiction.  She said it was what all the cool people were doing, and I wanted to be cool.  She made it look so great, and fun, and freeing.  She was my pusher, and after only one trip on the powder I was hooked.  Before I knew it, I was taking a trip every other weekend when my kids were with their dad, sometimes even taking off work to maximize the experience.  I fell madly in love with snowboarding.549978_10100860160658054_1268818898_n

The first time I tried snowboarding was the same day my ex was getting married somewhere in Pittsburgh.  It was about a week before my 37th birthday, and I could not sit at home counting down the minutes.  Instead, I agreed to take a snowboarding lesson at Keystone Ski Resort in Colorado.  I guess I figured what better way to keep my mind occupied than by hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speeds?  I wasn’t a total novice to the slopes.  I had tried skiing once in college when my roommate wanted to go to Paoli Peaks in Indiana.  I was super ready because the hills of Indiana are EXACTLY the same as the 12,400 foot peaks in Colorado.

The morning of my snowboarding lesson I was excited but nervous.  My last trip on powder ended up with one ski wrapped backwards (and my knee along with it), a swollen ankle, some sort of medical snowmobile ride and young children whizzing past my mangled form on tiny skis.  And that was nearly 20 years earlier.  I was determined not to give in to the very real fear (some may say “common sense”) that threatened to talk me out of jumping on the board and taking it for a ride.

Fresh powder

In the first few minutes of the lesson I learned how to strap my feet into the bindings (straps on the board that keep your feet attached when you fall again and again and again–and they’re supposed to help you actually control the board like reins on a willful stallion), and I learned to “skate,” by strapping in my lead foot and pushing my back foot along the snow, moving the board forward like a skateboard.  I rocked skating.  Rocked it.  If skating on a snowboard was an Olympic event, I definitely would have received a silver medal.  Feeling pretty cocky, I stupidly indicated I was ready for more.  Eventually, I moved into the phase where both feet could be strapped firmly into the bindings, and my instructor and I took a magic carpet (moving sidewalk) up the gentle slope of “learner’s hill.”

The hill looked very sweet from the bottom.  Its gentle sloping and harmless, cloud-like snow was inviting and safe–from the bottom.  Once the carpet deposited me at the top of the “bump,” as my instructor called it, I made the mistake of looking down.  The bottom was miles away, and seemed to be on an almost straight-down, death drop from where I was standing with my inadequate skating accomplishments.  The instructor reminded me that I did, indeed, know how to stop (I had practiced several times), and we were here at the top of Mt Everest so I could practice “leafing,” which was riding down the hill, drifting from side to side like a leaf falling from a tree to the ground.  I rocked falling.  I fell trying to stand up on the board; I fell within a few feet of standing up on the board; I fell midway down the hill; I fell two or three more times before I reached the bottom of the hill; and I fell trying to get in line for the magic carpet to take me back up the hill.  The snow falsely presented its softness and every fall hurt, a lot.  It was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I couldn’t get enough.  Traveling on the snow, even upright only a few feet at time, I felt unfettered.  Despite being strapped onto the board, I started to feel parts of my heart and mind become resuscitated after years of flatlining.

I took another lesson a week later and the conditions were perfect.  Inches and inches of fresh, soft, ample snow cushioned the slopes, and I started progressing in my skills.  I was hooked.  The feeling of riding down the mountain was enough to keep me coming back fall after fall, ride after ride.  During those first few days, I could barely sit on my backside and I knocked my shoulder away from the comfy home of its socket.  I didn’t care.  Each time I got on the lift, my fear (common sense) would build, and my heart would flap its wings frantically in my chest.  Was I really going to hurl myself down the 12,000 foot mountain?  Seriously?  Yep–over and over.

Snowboarding

The first time I made it down the mountain without falling was a personal triumph–and my butt-bone was pretty happy about it, too.  I don’t know what the triumph was over exactly, maybe loss.   For the last few years going through a divorce and taking inventory of whatever was left, I had lost so much, even the ability to truly feel anything–but snowboarding helped me stir some embers and bring something about me back to life.  And, even though there’s a line at every ski lift that’s clearly marked “Singles only,” I hold my head high, skate right to the front like a silver medalist would, hop on the lift with whatever 12-year old snowboard aficionados are heading up the mountain, and get ready to enjoy my ride.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: ,

“Girlfriends” #28

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Girlfriends

In middle school, high school, and most of college, my girlfriends were my center.  Everything I did, and everything I knew came from them and returned to them.  But, over time, let’s say college age, I became one of those girls who would describe herself as someone who “got along better with guys than with girls.”   Which really just meant I wanted the boys I thought were cute all to myself, but I used the unoriginal excuse that girls seemed to crave drama and guys were just easy going and liked to hang out, not gossip or start trouble.  As time moved on, the girlfriends I had from my younger days, I kept, but I wasn’t interested in making any new ones–really ever.

295293_3379028404535_633336833_nWhen I got married, some woman, I don’t remember who, told me to find good girlfriends and hold them tight.  And whatever-her-name-was was right.  My husband did not like my male friends, not even my old ones.  It was better for him that we made couple friends, and after a few fights, I agreed it was better for our relationship if we made couple friends.  I thought making friends with a couple would mean my husband would get to hang out with the cool half of the couple and I would get stuck with the wife.  But what I didn’t know was that making couple friends would save me by opening up a whole world I hadn’t really explored in my youth:  the world of girlfriends.

3345_1078543849454_1791839_nDuring the early years of my marriage, I met great girlfriends like Rachel who was married to Josh and Jill who was married to Doug.  Luckily, both my husband and I got along with both halves of the couple, and they got along with us—or at least they continued to invite us over for weekend football games, game nights and holidays.  As time went on, my husband became more comfortable with me hanging out with single girlfriends like Rachael who lived with me when my husband was in Korea (man, did we have some fun times!), Courtney who has a firecracker wit and the smarts to match, my supervisor Eliza who was awesome wrapped in a small package sealed with terrificness, or Jilly who was deemed “safe” because she was dating one of my husband’s friends–luckily for me she was also full of energy and had a caring heart.  I started accumulating so many girlfriends; it became hard to see the forest for the trees.  But my early instincts to keep the cute boys all to myself wasn’t wrong, and eventually the drama came, not in the form of any of my girlfriends, but in the form of one of my husband’s.

22731_1348393108090_433644_nWhen my world began imploding, it was my girlfriends who stood by my side, sometimes holding me up and other times, picking me up off the floor.  It was my girlfriends who talked me through the crazy thoughts and allowed me to sharpen my faith on the stones of their experience, grace and compassion.  I didn’t necessarily seek out girlfriends, but they kept coming into my life through my Bible study class, or through work, or friends from my past who reached out to help me, like my girl Meg in Tennessee who spent countless hours on the phone with me, letting me weep and curse, shout and sit silently.  Women opened their arms to me like my sister-in-law-turned-friend, Jen, who put up with more of my whining and crying at the same time she was pushing me to run farther, run faster and pick up the pieces of my perspective.

167341_1840581296886_750572_nDuring my deployment to Afghanistan, I met Peggy, Melissa and Megan, and I deepened my friendship-turned-sisterhood with Tommi.  All these women let me expel the demons of my thoughts, and, like the best girlfriends should, they cried with me sometimes; they made me laugh sometimes; they told me it wasn’t my fault sometimes; they gave me difficult truths sometimes, and they showed up all the times I needed them.

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I continue to receive the gifts of girlfriends as the shadows are starting to dissolve back to where they came from a little more each year.  I meet wonderful women; some of them are introduced to me by their husbands, and some I have the honor of serving alongside like Shelmon and Deb who have shared their faith and never-say-die-attitudes.  Others are in my life just because sisterhood is a beautiful thing that I didn’t understand or appreciate because I was so blind for so long.

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My family, Melissa and Megan

 There is little more precious a gift than sharing your life with someone else.  Each one of my beautiful girlfriends has shared her heart with me in some way, lifted me up and pushed me forward in others, commiserated with my pain and disappointment and my struggles with motherhood and being an ex-wife.  Now, I’m moving into a phase where there are women in my life who are there because they need girlfriends, too, to show them that the girls don’t bring the drama.  When you get older, girlfriends bring the healing and, hopefully, the wine.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

“The Miracles of Music Recitals” #27

My blog’s title promises stories of things other than the military, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give a little something different this week.  And because my blog is my therapy, I’m going to figuratively lie down on the shrink’s couch.  This week, I will write about holiday music recitals and the miracles they bring.  My oldest son is in second grade, and last year was the first time I had to attend a music recital.  I went to the 3:00 p.m. performance (amazingly, there was more than 1 performance) to avoid running into my ex-husband and his, at the time, fiancé during the evening performance.  While the singing skills weren’t going to win any choir awards (mumble, mumble, “little turkey,” mumble, mumble, “grandma’s house”), it was a bittersweet moment to watch my boy in his very first school “thing.”  He was still young enough to be excited when he found me in the crowd, waved enthusiastically and, uncaring who was watching, made strange faces at me from his perch on the risers.  But watching that performance was also another moment where, if someone had asked me three years earlier, I wouldn’t have thought I would be sitting alone, watching my children grow up without sharing the moments with my husband.

This year, there were a few changes to the re-visited experience.  My son was now in the second grade and the choir teacher spruced up the song list to include “10 Little Turkeys,” one of my all time faves.  The music teacher also incorporated lyric cue cards to avoid the embarrassment of 2012 when the kids forgot the words, and we had to listen to the off-key hummmmm-hummmmmm-hummmmming of 45 seven-year-olds.  This year, there was also a country theme, so my boy needed to wear his best country and western attire consisting of blue jeans, work boots and a flannel shirt.  The last major change between this year and last year was that I also had to attend the performance at the same time as my ex-husband and his now wife.

I wasn’t sure I was going to make the performance at all because this year I was coming from class at a local university about an hour away (it’s another story so I’ll save it for a future blog post).  As I was slowly maneuvering back through the Denver traffic at rush hour, I seriously considered finding a spot at a neighborhood bar and ordering too many hot wings (aka:  beer).  But I didn’t.  I made it to the school with a full 5-minutes to spare.  When I walked into the gymnasium-turned-auditorium, I expected to find a safe, quiet space at the back of the room and watch my boy in his second ever school “thing.”  But my natural instincts to sit down beat out my self-preservative need to keep my distance—I looked around for an empty seat and saw an entire row of them—right beside my ex and his bride.

Normally, I stress for a bit when I know I’m going to have to see him, planning out how to react, how to make the interaction as short and succinct as possible, planning how to maintain my sanity and not karate chop him somewhere sensitive.  For whatever reason, maybe it was divine guidance because I listened to the book of Matthew all the way to Denver and all the way back, I didn’t think about the delicate waltz of running into him at the choir performance.  That’s the only reason I can come up with for why I did what I did when I saw him and his wife sitting in that nearly empty row at the back of the gymnas-uditorium.

As soon as I saw the back of her head, I went right over to her without hesitation.  It was as if someone yelled, “Action!” and I started performing the part I had been rehearsing for the past year.  I put my hand on her shoulder (not around her neck, as many who know me may have expected) and greeted her warmly…and, dare I say, sincerely?  Then, because Jesus is a performer of miracles, I sat down next to my ex and his wife as if they were saving the empty seat just for me, which they weren’t.  My ex looked back and forth between the two of us and shifted in his seat.  I flashed a smile and asked them about their Christmas plans.  I don’t know who I was in that moment.

When the choir walked in, each finding his and her place on the carpeted steps that passed as risers, I craned my neck to see my boy.  There he was, in his plaid shirt provided by his stepmom and his jeans and work boots provided by me, looking just as country as any choir director could want or need.  Just like last year, he enthusiastically looked around for his expected audience and found his father and stepmother.  He grinned and waved, and then his eyes walked down the row of chairs and saw me.

photo

Happy to see us.

I was glad I didn’t overthink what I would or wouldn’t do when I saw my ex at the recital.  I was glad I sat down next to him and his wife.  In that moment, my son’s grin went into a full-on monkey smile that took up more than half of his face.  We all reacted to his joy, at once giggling and waving back frantically.  Having us all in one place together probably made our child feel centered.

During the performance, sad thoughts ran through my mind as I watched the two of them, heads together, making comments as if they were his parents and I was the outsider, but I pushed the thoughts away, choosing to stay in the moment of my son feeling safe with all the people he loved and who loved him in close proximity to each other.

Happy boy.

Happy boy.

After the 30-minute singing extravaganza was finished, my son’s stepmother and I made our way to the front of the other parents taking pictures of their little darlings.  We snapped away, and I said my goodbyes as I made my way outside to my car.  Once safely ensconced in the darkness and privacy of my front seat, whatever magic that allowed me to dance through the evening vanished, and I burst into unrestricted tears.  The tidal wave of sadness was unexpected and absolutely complete.  I don’t know why this time in my life is taking so long to pass, or if it will ever pass, but I hold tight to the joy of seeing my son’s face as he saw me sitting with the other people who make him feel loved.

Categories: Motherhood, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

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