How Did I Get Here?

Post by Hope

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HOW DID I GET HEEEEEERE?! HOW did I get here? Um, how did I get HERE? I’ve asked it these three ways and probably a hundred times differently in the past two years. The part that you don’t see in this picture is me questioning if I could actually pull it off….living the self-less life I’ve promised them I would. Going back over the vows and rehearsing to myself all of the reasons why I stay. The times when the entire house is pulsing with some form of media and quiet cannot be found in my own home. When my preferences are not considered and when choices that affect my life are made by others.

How about the times Dave has found me crying in a ball in our room and watched without words until the storm passes. The nights we have lost sleep because I am rocked to my core with yet another request for stretching beyond all limits I have set. Or the ball games where she has been within feet and the awkwardness of watching the kids decide who they will sit with and show affection toward. It’s all the part that we don’t air.

What I learned, very quickly, when my former life ended, is that there IS NO “grass is greener” on the other side. It doesn’t exist. Everybody has dead grass in their proverbial yard. The difference is those who dig up the dirt, find the poison and make room for life again. We weren’t surprised by the fact that there is turbulence in our home. We weren’t shocked to find that taking one step forward, usually comes with two steps backwards. What has surprised me the most, is me. When the heat is turned up and too many things are happening at once, I almost always withdraw and resort to survival mode. In survival mode, I wall off my heart and identify the enemies and how to avoid them until the threat has passed. The problem with that in this life, is that those “enemies” are people. The people I have pledged to love unconditionally.

I grew up as a transient, gypsy, Army BRAT. I have an internal clock that is set for 2 years. This was the cycle of an assignment for most of my dad’s career. This clock governs my comfort zone as an adult. Like a predictable cuckoo clock, it goes off every two years to let me know it’s time to move on and discover the next challenge. In my first marriage, I uncovered this weakness and learned that roots are a good thing. In this marriage, I am not only challenged to re-grow roots, but to stay when the hurricane blows at a Cat 4. This is year #2. The question about who I am and what I’m made of is staring me in the face.

For the faint of heart, this life is not for you. Find a way to fix your broken relationship because if you leave or make him leave, the next marriage will break you the rest of the way. For the selfish, get over yourself. If you choose to live the only trip around the sun you have for you alone, your story will be short, no matter how far you travel. For the lost, if you can’t find your compass and true north outside of a relationship, you’re going to be led astray by anyone that wanders onto your path. This will ruin true love for you. Now for you brave souls who are living in the reality of balancing it all….in your head AND your heart, do the work. There’s no shortcuts. Do the work lads and lasses. The quality of the love, the time and the memories will pay you back in multiples.

Love hard.

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The End

Rocky

Posted By Dave

“How did I end up here?” was the question that the voice in my head kept asking. I came home from work to see only my clothes and open space where some of the furniture used to be. Sadness, anger, frustration, it all washed over me. I was like a fighter who had taken a right hook that I didn’t have a chance to brace for. As I crumbled to the canvas, I was pissed and hurt. How does 13 years of marriage, three children and a home together, a life built together, end up here? Sometimes there just isn’t an explanation. Sometimes there just aren’t any answers. Sometimes bad stuff happens to people who tried to do everything right. It doesn’t make any sense.

After the separation began, my boys would go spend the agreed-upon days with their mom. Instantly, a house that was full of the sounds and activity of a young family was as quiet as a funeral home. Appropriately, I felt like I was dying inside. Toys left where they were played with last. Their clothes in the laundry, Capri-Suns in the refrigerator. The TV left on the last channel they watched, the baseball laying in the front yard. I couldn’t wait to talk to them, but despised having to tell them “Good Night” over the phone. I missed them so bad, I felt like someone was using a vacuum to suck the life out of me. I would lay there in bed and be enveloped in the silence. It made me sick to my stomach. It was in those times that I began to experience the love of my heavenly Father like I never had before. I have been a Christian since 1997, yet I discovered during those lonely nights that my faith had never been tested like this. I began to beg God to make His presence known, I was having a real crisis of faith, wondering if all of the stuff I had said about Jesus through the years was really true or if I was just repeating what everyone else was saying.

I know now that it is all true. I can’t explain it in words so that anyone else would understand. I just know because I’ve sensed the presense of my Savior in times when I just wanted to curl up in a ball in the floor. I know because I was broken down and stripped of everything that I held dear, and yet still knew that there was a reason for it. I know because He waited for me to ask Him for forgiveness before He began to reveal His new plan for me. I don’t ask “why?” anymore. That’s because I know the answer. It wasn’t so I could start over. It wasn’t so I could get answers to all of my questions. I’ve learned over time that the specifics don’t matter. Who did what, who said what, who was wrong and who was right, none of it matters. I spent plenty of time being self-righteous about my circumstances, and it still left me empty. The reason I don’t ask why anymore is because every day I live this life completely differently than I did prior to the day my first marriage ended. It is encompassed in this quote from author Ken Gire:

“When suffering shatters the carefully kept vase that is our lives, God stoops to pick up the pieces. But he doesn’t put them back together as a restoration project patterned after our former selves. Instead, he sifts through the rubble and selects some of the shards as raw material for another project – a mosaic that tells the story of redemption.”

The End was The Beginning for me. I made the choice to get up off of the canvas, spit the blood out of my mouth and get back in the fight. The fight for me was to figure out what I did to cause what happened and fix it. I went to counseling for months to open up those places that were in the shadows and bring them into the light. The fight for me was to lead my sons through a traumatic situation. I could not leave them behind as I jumped back in the ring, I had no choice but to be a healthy Dad for them. I fight for them every day, even when they aren’t with me. Someday they are going to have to fight too. It is my job to be their Mickey, to prepare them for the day they are going to step into the ring. Now the fight for me involves my young marriage to a woman who is my Adrian. I refuse to let my past or my enemy win, and that means fighting for what is good and right. Even though my greatest fears were realized, they were also defeated the moment that stopped trying to control what wasn’t mine begin with. Freedom and power are my assets thanks to Who I serve, not who I am.

It all began the day that it ended.

Step By Step

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Posted By Hope

It begins with one step. One foot in front of the other. This is what it felt like to start over.

After ten years of marriage, I found myself unpacking in a tiny one bedroom apartment in Charlotte. Not in the nice part of town, but not exactly in the bad part. I used up every bit of fight I had left as I unloaded the trailer with the last of my furniture. The drive out of my old neighborhood was a mixture of loss and hope. As I opened the door of my new place to begin moving all that was left to begin again, I began to run out of strength. It was the last half load that was the hardest. I remember carrying in a box that was heavy and as I carried it through my living room and out onto the patio storage, I began to cry and felt like I couldn’t make one more trip out. As the tears began to fall, I stopped in the doorway and couldn’t fight them anymore. I felt a small whisper tell me to keep going. He said, “Just take one step at a time. Just one step Hope. One step gives way to another and you make your way to that last box.” I made my way through the living room and out to the trailer and picked up more and carried on slowly and with tears. With that last box, I depleted the reserve tank and collapsed into a spent, crying mess. As I sat there recovering on my couch, I realized that I had kept going for another hour, with the strength from one step at a time.

That wasn’t the last time He gave me rest in that concept. There were moments of such loneliness and rejection when I felt so completely lost in my divorce that I questioned if He even remembered me. I cried so often and for so long that it felt like I would always be sad. That the idea of life turning over a new leaf or that cloud having a silver lining was not for me because I had sinned by going through a divorce. For me, the hope of full joy did not apply any longer. That season ended. Thankfully that was not the case. I just needed time. What He taught me in that place was that we prepare for what is next, in the now. He carefully showed me the concept of one step at a time. I didn’t have the strength for more than that during my broken season, so I listened. As I began to heal, I saw that the concept applies to every season. Even when it’s good.

As I face the challenge of doing life as an awkward semi-quasi-partial parent, I apply this principle often. When I get selfish, when I get rejected, when I am overwhelmed and when I just plain don’t want to do this anymore. In my planning, in my waiting, in my hope and in my fear, I recognize that all I have light for is the step I am currently taking. Living like this means that I have no idea where the journey will take me, but I know from experience that I’m not alone and the destination isn’t the part that matters.

Liberating The Patterns

Posted by Dave

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When I was a kid, I remember watching my mom crochet different things like blankets and pot holders. Although being a boy kept me from ever wanting to crochet anything on my own, I remember being amazed at how these different spools of yarn could turn into a big blanket or a coaster for the coffee table. The different colors of yarn formed a pattern that held the final product together.

During January, we’ve been in a sermon series about the patterns in our lives. This series has focused on how the patterns in our lives play out on a day-to-day basis. We’ve been studying how the growth and implementation of our faith determines the patterns that are displayed as a result.

This got me thinking about the patterns in my life, and in my own family. This is something that I’m very passionate about, as I believe the lives we live are determined by the patterns we were taught during our upbringing (both good and bad), and by the patterns we learn as we experience life itself (both good and bad). For example, a daughter grows up with a father who doesn’t know how to love her and never shows love to her. She grows up not understanding affection from a man, and then spends the rest of her life seeking this love from other men in an unhealthy way. A son grows up with a mother who criticizes him and never approves of what he does. He grows up feeling like he’s never good enough, then spends the rest of his life trying to gain approval from women in an unhealthy way. And so on. On the flip side, the positive things from a child’s upbringing have a postive impact on their lives.

With enough self-reflection, the patterns in our lives become evident. What about your marriage, divorce, family, or step-family? Can you see any patterns in those? Being sensitive to the patterns in a traditional family are important enough. Some of those patterns are born into a traditional family, there is a genetic pattern that cannot be broken. In a blended family, you’re trying to patch a family together without the genetic bond that is present in a traditional family. Identifying these patterns can make or break the well-being of your family. If you’re in the middle of a season that has you wondering if that “patch” is going to hold up, just give it some time. Patterns aren’t completed or determined overnight. As our pastor said recently, “you hear me preach for 45 minutes and expect to undo 45 years of bad patterns in your life? It doesn’t work that way.”

The challenge then becomes taking the time to look objectively at the patterns in your life. Do I have enough time or energy to change what I see? Is it worth the effort that it will take? It’s just like exercise. You have to start somewhere. There is no quick fix to fixing the negative patterns in your life or family. There’s no pill to take. There’s no 30 day diet that will give you that supermodel body. It will take work, and lots of hard work, to turn the tide. What’s the alternative? Pretending that everything is fine, and that you don’t need to examine the fine print. If that is your choice, not only do you miss out on the opportunity to change the negative patterns in your life, you also miss out on seeing the positive patterns in your life. Don’t let the fear of seeing things you don’t want to see keep you from seeing things that you need to see.

As you look at the patterns in your family, try to steer away from blanket statements, generalities, or decisions instead of taking each individual person into account. This doesn’t mean that one individual is more important than any other in the family. The pattern of the family is set by the individual patterns. To change the patterns in the family, it begins with transforming individual patterns. It would be much easier to make one decision or change of direction that would affect everyone the same. Because we’re created with individual temperaments, personalities and needs, it just isn’t that simple. One person’s positive or negative patterns can affect the entire family. Take a family of four with an alcoholic father who is abusive when he drinks. The patterns of the other three people in the family will be affected. Mom will either become codependent (where one person supports or enables another person’s addictions or irresponsibility) or she will reject Dad’s behavior, causing major conflict between the two of them. Whichever direction she goes will determine the patterns of the lives of the children. This is exactly why so many problems in families are generational, because these patterns show up very early in our lives. If they aren’t confronted and dealt with, you have teenagers and then young adults repeating the same mistakes. Then they carry those patterns into their relationships and marriages, producing children who will carry them as well. And on and on it goes. Dad’s alcoholism and how it manifests itself in the family has determined the pattern, and it has affected everyone. Mom can stand up and say “we’re going to change the pattern of this family” and try to stem the tide of how everything is affecting the children, but until Dad makes a choice to change, the pattern will always be there. This is why you have to look at each individual in the family when looking at the patterns of the whole family.

When Hope and I decided to get married, we had an expectation that it would take plenty of time for our family to be “crocheted” together. In a step/blended family situation, the tendency is to try to put it all together overnight. That puts so much pressure on the individuals in the family that no patterns have time to emerge. Everyone is simply reacting or trying to keep the peace. Our approach hasn’t changed from Day 1, and now we’re starting to experience the fruit from this patience. This doesn’t mean that we’re without conflict and that everything is smooth sailing. This doesn’t mean that we won’t have tough days ahead, especially as our three sons transform into those monsters known as teenagers. What it means is that instead of reacting only to situations and circumstances, you go further into what is happening. Is there a deeper pattern as to why this happened? Does that pattern need to be changed for the family to be healthy? You have to allow the tapestry to be woven slowly as everyone adjusts.

Take a look at your life and your family today and see if you can identify the patterns. Look for the good ones and the bad ones. Look for the ones that you want to change. It might be as simple as changing your diet & exercise plan, or choosing to stop watching or listening to things that are preventing growth in your life. Or it could be as big as making the choice to not be an addict anymore. If your marriage is going well, or going not-so-well, know that it isn’t circumstances that have caused that. It’s the patterns. Sew the good ones into the pattern of your life and tear out the bad ones. Then wait for the change to happen.

Notes From The Sideline

Posted by Hope

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It is the last day of work leave for the unexpected hysterectomy that sidelined me. I have very mixed feelings. This time FLEW by! Dave said it would and now, I’m mentally preparing to go back. There are a ton of things I had hoped to accomplish. It’s amazing how distracted we live. But, I have had a great time.

I have learned so much during this period.  I’m also thankful that I’ve discovered areas to focus on improvement within myself in 2015.  A lot can be said for good, honest introspection and the last six weeks have provided plenty of opportunity for that for this gal. There have been so many many many moments that I have hidden in my heart to savor.

Here are some of the biggest recent journey takeaways for me:

  1. Infertility is horrifying.  It is relentless, pervasive, indiscriminate and costly. It damages the home and the heart.  It can bring a couple to their breaking point and can end friendships.  But it can also be the very thing that causes a woman to find her true and God given identity.  I am defined by Jesus Christ alone.
  2. Our lives rarely turn out as we plan them.  That doesn’t diminish the success.  In the creative way our lives are woven, we can end up with a much more beautiful tapestry and a much more beautiful song.
  3. The fear of the unknown usually turns out to be worse than the big thing. When the day arrives, you really are stronger than you realize. And maybe, just maybe, the monster you are afraid of, doesn’t exist.
  4. You learn who your friends are when you are down for the count. The old adage, “To have a friend, you must be a friend” rings very true when doing companionship inventory. The Golden Rule helps out too. Remember this when your friends are down!
  5. A good laugh can pull you through a knothole.  When you’ve cried, pondered, talked and chewed it out….find a way to laugh.
  6. You must be willing and able to make your story/need/surgery/loss public to receive the care and support you need. Had I not revealed the impending surgery and the depth to which my heart would hurt, this time would have passed quietly and who knows how different this recovery process would have been. Regardless of the fear of perceived rejection, there are people who really do care.
  7. You will not have as much down time as you expect.  I still have a long list of projects I thought I would be able to pass my time here at the house checking off. That did not happen. Somehow, I still had a schedule to keep in this time. UGH! Embrace rest.
  8. Pay attention to your body’s signals. Stop when it says stop. There’s a reason you are dizzy, weak or hungry. Lay down when you feel those signals. You will be able to accomplish more than you expect, but don’t over-do it.
    Celebrate the small steps and the good days. You may hurt for a while, but when it doesn’t, celebrate that. Healing is happening.
  9. Do you really need to feel bad? If you’re not sad, don’t look for a reason to be. If you’re feeling fine, enjoy that. You may be walking through a hard time, but if you’re healthy emotionally, count yourself as blessed and carry on with your chin up. There’s no reason to make yourself lament if you’re emotionally well.
  10. Appreciate the sacrifice of those around you that are having to make adjustments to serving you. Notice the little things.
  11. Let people love you. Generosity will show up in unexpected places. Enjoy being loved. Instead of being uncomfortable, suspicious or feeling the obligation to repay….breathe in the gesture and intent and accept the love.
  12. We do not all speak the same language. Everyone responds to life differently. When you encounter someone who seems to belittle, dismiss or even mock your situation, do not harden your heart toward them. Accept that their journey is different from yours and carry on being true to who you are. Heal properly and in a healthy way, free from bitterness.

I feel excitement as I look forward to returning to the routine of my life. I have nuggets in my pocket to face tomorrow with. This has been a defining event in my life and I know I have emerged a changed woman.  Ultimately, it’s up to me to determine how I walk from here.

Two Christmases

Two Christmases

Posted by Dave

If you’re divorced with children like me, it is likely you have a separation or custody agreement that tells you when your kids will be with you and when they won’t. My copy of this legal paperwork also spells out what will happen with the children on Thanksgiving and Christmas. For me, these holidays rotate. On the years I have them for Thanksgiving, they are with their mother for Christmas. I had them for Thanksgiving this year, which means that we will spend this Christmas without the boys.

This is year #4 for my boys having “Two Christmases”. It is a constant reminder that our family isn’t like it used to be, and that we’ve had to make adjustments to how we celebrate the holidays. It is a constant reminder that we aren’t a “traditional” family. Because my parents divorced, I remember what it felt like to have a Christmas with my Dad, and a Christmas with my Mom. Even though this is becoming normal for our family, I must admit that on the Christmases that the boys aren’t with us, they are missed terribly. A traditional Christmas is all about the kids, from the myth of Santa, to stockings, to waking up early to unwrap presents, to playing with new toys. Nearly every Christmas movie you watch has some element of Christmas that focuses on children.

If you are spending Christmas without your children due to divorce, I’m here to tell you that if you let it, it will send you into a tailspin. You’ll start to feel emptiness, regret, and you’ll be miserable this Christmas. You’ll get angry at the “other” house or your ex-spouse, and you’ll be jealous that they get to spend Christmas with the kids. Not a great way to spend the Christmas holiday, is it?

I’m not an expert on the subject, but I want to encourage anyone who is going through this during the Christmas season. There have been some things that we’ve done in our home to adjust, and to make Christmas special even when it isn’t our year to have the children on December 25th. On the years we don’t have the boys for Christmas, we always have to plan our family Christmas for another time. Depending on where Christmas falls, we will usually do this the weekend before or after December 25th. We work hard to make sure that this day feels special to them, even though it may not be December 25th when we give our gifts. We build the anticipation. We make it exciting. This year, my mother- and father-in-law got into the act, and made a huge deal out of “our Christmas”, which happened to be on December 20th this year. That really made it feel like a special day to us and to the boys. It really is important to start some new traditions like this to make sure your children understand that you will continue make this time of year special for them. If you try hard enough, you’ll be able to identify ways to do this in your situation.

On the bigger picture, there are some other perspective adjustments that you can make to help you if you share your children with another home for Christmas. First of all, don’t get into a competition when it comes to buying gifts. Don’t go into debt to try to outdo their other parent. Trust me, the kids will pick up on that, and eventually could start to use it against you. Also, if the other home is able to buy more expensive gifts than you, the worst thing you can do is dump this on your children. Saying things like “well, it must be nice for them to afford that”, or “if I wasn’t paying them all this child support or alimony, I could buy you that too” is a sure-fire way to make your children feel guilty about the gifts they get from the other house. It is a sure-fire way to make sure that when they’re older and are able to choose who to come visit on Christmas, it will be with reluctance that they choose you. The bottom line is that no matter the circumstances, no matter how painful it is, you must get above it and be happy for your children for the Christmas that they have in the other house.

Another thing that may help is to remember that there are plenty of families this Christmas who would give anything just to hear their child’s voice this Christmas. You may have to wish your kids a Merry Christmas over the phone, but some parents aren’t able to wish their children Merry Christmas at all because they’ve passed away. Remembering this will help you cherish that phone call on Christmas day, and will help you maintain a perspective that keeps you thankful and grateful for what you do have, even if it isn’t “traditional” or “normal”.

Lastly, we don’t make it a secret on this blog about our belief in Jesus Christ. If you read the Bible, you see that Christmas itself is about a child who came to earth as a baby. That same baby grew into a man, and ultimately died on a cross, separated from His Father. Keeping this in mind reminds you that your Heavenly Father knows how you feel. He knows what it is like to let go of His child. If you have to let go of your children this Christmas, do it with the understanding that the One who created you had to let go too. Just as with Jesus and His Father, the hope of Christmas is wrapped in reconciliation. Keep that hope alive this Christmas for your children, no matter the situation.

The “D” Word

Posted by Dave

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As I sit here typing this, they’ve just wheeled my wife Hope back for her hysterectomy. The healing from years of struggling with infertility begins for her. Her post from several weeks ago, The M Word, chronicled this journey. She has been hesitant to share her story at times, and understandably so. If there is anything I’ve learned since we’ve been together, women who struggle with infertility deal with a deep sense of hurt and loss. Sometimes it is painful to uncover that, like when you go to the women’s clinic and you’re surrounded by baby and parenting magazines. When Hope and I began discussing marriage several years ago, I told her that I wanted to be there for her to walk through the pain that she still experienced. I had no clue what that meant then, but I now realize that the past six weeks have been that time.

If anyone can have a favorite letter of the alphabet, “D” is my favorite. Lot’s of important things in my life have happened that start with D. David is my first name, and David is my favorite person from the Bible. D is the first letter of divorce, and this seemingly negative word has shaped and changed my life. D is the first letter of my job description and the most honorable title I’ve ever held: DAD. God has blessed me with the opportunity to raise three sons, something that changed the course of my life. I don’t take the responsibility lightly, understanding that God has chosen me to be the one to launch them into manhood.

When Hope and I were dating, we waited three months before we introduced her to my boys. We didn’t take this lightly. Deep down, I wanted to get to know her character to see if I wanted her around my sons. I never take off the “Dad Hat”, so I knew that the woman I chose to have in my life would be responsible for shaping the lives of my sons. I’ll never forget the day that she met my boys. That was the day I knew I wanted her to be my wife. She was a natural with each of them, and over the next several months their response to her confirmed that she was perfectly capable of raising children. Her body didn’t work properly to give her children of her own, yet her motherly instincts are evident in all that she does.

So, not only was I chosen to be a Dad, God also chose me to be Hope’s husband. Meaning that her struggles become my struggles. Meaning that her pain becomes my pain. How do you find the place inside yourself to both be a Dad, and support the one you love who wasn’t able to have children? How do you identify with someone who desperately wanted children but couldn’t have them, and know that you were chosen to be a Dad? These questions have swirled around in my head many times. For me, I’ve discovered the answer to these questions. Another D word: DEVOTION. It is impossible for me to identify with the struggle of infertility. It is impossible for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who desperately wanted children but couldn’t have them. It IS possible for me to be devoted to her.

Being devoted means being committed, it doesn’t mean I have to come up with all of the answers. It isn’t my job to be the “solutionist”, it is my job to be her companion. Sometimes all it takes is just being there.