In the first part of this… what do you even call a 2-part blog post? “Series” seems a little optimistic, but I can’t think of anything better than “two-parter.” Anyway, in the first part of this not-quite-diptych, I got pretty real about my first marriage and divorce. I shared some of the things I learned about people and about myself in the context of a struggle that, frankly, is drenched in social shame. I wrote about my experience, in part, to let it air out from all that shame, share some love, and let the good things be good in spite of social expectations that there are none in divorce. To recap, I shared these ideas:
- I cannot control what other people do.
- The “impurity” of cheating is not why cheating is harmful to a relationship.
- Ignoring my own needs did not help him or our relationship.
- I have much more grit than I ever gave myself credit for.
- Things change and that is life.
- Forgiveness is hard, and it is real.
- I still have a lot of growing to do and a lot to learn.
For this second part, I promised to “talk about all of the wonderful things I have learned and experienced since the divorce.” That may have been a little misleading, as I don’t know that I could truly write about all of the wonderful things since then. However, I will attempt to share the really meaningful parts in all of their “yes”-ness. Again, I hope you are encouraged in your own relationships – romantic and otherwise – as you read about my journey. Peace and Grace to you, once more.
- If you are determined to love others, you are worthy of love. Paige (Brown) Eckhart and I met my freshman year of college during our Soundings days. We respected each other for being honest and outspoken. She also thought I was a pretentious twerp freshman (true) and I thought she was an intimidating hard-ball senior (true). We really didn’t get to know each other until after our Soundings days when we started working with children for the Celebrate Recovery program that summer. Really, if you want to get to know someone, agree to care for twenty children running around in a small room together. Paige and I were reserved about working together, but our reserve faded pretty quickly under the pressure of our mutual, unspoken determination to give each other a chance. That determination blossomed into friendship, and eventually, something akin to family. As a child, I often heard my mom say, “to have friends you have to be a friend.” I think that is exactly what happened with Paige and me. We didn’t really care if the other liked us, we were determined to love one another regardless. From that love grew the deep knowledge that we were not alone; that a beautiful, faithful, intelligent sister had our backs for whatever curveball life threw at us (Paige played softball, so I may have gotten the sweeter end of the deal). Paige is colorfully extroverted, I am ambiverted at best. Paige wears fierce red lipstick, reads mom blogs, and knows more rap lyrics than the number of foods I am allergic to. I struggle to wear a bra most days, read Experimental Theology, and recently saw Radiohead in concert. (Paige and I never run out of things to talk about.) Despite all that I had learned from the divorce, I still had a long way to grow. I seriously questioned my ability to love others and participate in healthy relationships. Without Paige, I might have doubted my worth for the rest of my life. Honestly, I think the juxtaposition of my relationship with Paige and the end of my marriage really convinced me of my own worth. In both cases, I was determined to love. In both cases, I was worthy of love. I was not, in fact, the difference between the two relationships, but the common denominator. Paige did not determine my worth. My ex did not determine my worth. I did, and I was the only one who could. It is freeing to know that you can ask for love from someone you love. It is also encouraging to know you are worthy of love because the love you can offer is so much fuller. We can ask others to journey with us, and we can join them in their adventures. I can say, with confidence, that I am worthy of Paige’s love because I love her more fiercely with each passing day than I knew I was capable of. She and I have vastly different perspectives that I think beautifully represent the diversity of humanity, and build us up rather than tearing us down. We are just as worthy in our differences as in our similarities. Our love is why we read and edit each others’ delicate first drafts. It is why our disagreements grow our friendship. It is why she is my favorite writer, and my dearest friend. I am worthy of our love because I am determined to give it.
- Assess where concerns really stem from and address them with others. When David and I started dating, life was weird. I am a divorced woman working for a Christian institution that happens to be the college we attended with my ex-husband and closest friends. I didn’t tell many people about the divorce because most of the people I could tell were part of that college network. I didn’t want my ex steeped in any further shame and I certainly didn’t want David suffering. So, yeah, things were weird. Internal conflicts and social concerns were everywhere. I sought personal counseling, and David and I worked hard to be uncomfortably honest with ourselves about where we were and about our concerns. Nothing is quite as scary as telling one of your closest friends (who, let’s be real, is ridiculously intelligent, cute and well-rounded) that you need time to learn them and love them well before advancing your relationship. Thankfully, scary and uncomfortable things frequently turn into some of the most satisfying — especially when you are honest about them (see the next bullet point). David and I had to grow to look at concerns as small parts of life that need room to grow and change us. It has been really cool to have concerns about our relationship, and to practice examining those concerns for what they really are. Sometimes we examine them together and sometimes we examine them and then discuss solutions. The main point, usually, is addressing the real concern together with the people you love rather than getting swallowed by mounting concern. I am steadily learning that it does no good to entertain the negative, nagging little voices – they will undermine our confidence and our relationships. After practicing this new tactic (I feel like I am discussing military strategy with words like “tactic”) with David for about 4 months, I had the opportunity to practice with my family when they stayed with me for the summer. As an adolescent, I developed this habit of keeping my family at a safe distance to avoid disappointing them. My mom and sister are my favorite people on the planet, and I delight in their successes, but they would never know it. It is rather unfortunate, so I welcomed the opportunity to grow those relationships. It. Was. Hard. It is hard. I have started a growth process with my family that takes time and dedication. When I get home from work and my family beats my puppy to the door to greet me, I have to remember that I am concerned about letting my work weariness rub off on them (the truth), rather than disinterested in spending time with family (the initial feeling). And once I remember that, I just have to be honest with them. As people who love me, they take my statement of, “Hi, guys! It’s great to see you! I am not entirely done thinking about work for the day, so give me a half-hour to myself and then I’ll come hear about your day,” really, really well. I think everyone who loves wants to address concerns together and grow in Love.
- Be uncomfortably self-honest and humble as you try to grow. Disclaimer, this is very related to my previous bullet point. I believe there is a difference between saying to yourself, “I have this belief because I need it to be true in order to be okay, but that’s not okay,” or “I do this thing because it is easier than acknowledging that I don’t really know what else to do,” than saying, “I am just not good at this thing, or “I am not a good person.” The difference is that we escalate the problem when we believe we cannot change for it the better. However, if we want to tackle the problem and address our concerns, we have to believe we can grow and change (at this point in the reading, my friend, Daniel, would refer you to American Psychologist Angela Duckworth’s research on growth mindset). In order to cultivate a spiritual “growth mindset,” we kinda have to be honest with ourselves about what needs to grow, and then be really honest with ourselves about how to grow. For example, as the divorce amped up, I really needed to work on how quickly I displayed my anger-response to… well, anything. I used to minimize how bad it was and ignore it because I didn’t think I could change. I thought I was just a bad person with a bad temper. But, in my relationships with of Paige and David, I noticed how they respond to things that might arouse them to anger, and they don’t seem angry! They pause, and they think about something (often Paige will make a sarcastic joke as she thinks), and then they address the concern (refer to the previous bullet point). They may still be emotional in charged situations, but they don’t usually diminish the benefits of communication with anger-responses. I asked David about this, often, as my curiosity grew and I found that I could do it! I had no idea how, so I decided it would be my sole focus, something to meditate on and always be aware of. I consulted mentors and books and self-examination until I realized that I typically get angry when I feel like I do not have time. This manifests in many ways. I may feel like I don’t have time to solve the bundle of other emotions, so I wrangle them with anger. Or, perhaps, I feel like I am on a tight schedule and the man in front of me in the grocery store is taking his sweet time at the checkout. Instead of an anger-response, now, I see the instinct of anger as a useful indication that I need to reassess my priorities and perception of time. I remind myself that I have more than enough time.
- Growth only happens in a positive direction. This is the mindset I still struggle most to maintain, but is, perhaps, the most fundamentally helpful for growth. I, and the people who love me, have worked really hard to encourage positivity in my approach to goals, struggles, and tasks. I am a project manager in my day-job, so I am really good at worrying about everything that could go wrong and building a “best path” and a contingency plan for each bad thing. We people, I’m learning, are not necessarily efficient in the standard industry sense of the word. We don’t crunch hard things at breakneck speed for 60 hours a week and come away with good health, joy, peace, or love. I feel that those things — health, joy, peace, love — are essential to human efficiency. So, I often wonder what might make us better (who doesn’t?) at maintaining those things. My wondering leads me back to the idea of growth – typically, we all want to grow more of the good things. In my case — and I suspect many others’ — though, I zero-in on what I don’t want to grow or who I don’t want to be; as if focusing on the flaws will make them go away and leave room for growth, but I really don’t think that’s how growth works. When David and I started to intentionally build our relationship after the divorce, we learned that “not-wanting” to interact negatively does not equate positive interaction. We would have to equip ourselves with tools of positivity. We rather stumbled into a paradigm of positive growth, purposefully seeking what is good separately from what is not-good. Of course, it caused a full-scale avalanche of new growth paradigms. I now feel that, if I am growing what is good only for itself, then there is only positive growth or nothing. Essentially, I am either growing, or I am not. There is no negative “un-growth.” It sounds simple enough, but practicing the tenants of this mindset have been ridiculously hard. It takes a lot of intentional effort and even more self-forgiveness. This mindset does not necessarily exclude failure, but it separates negative action from positive action. I now feel as though I have agency over both my positive output and my negative output, rather than defaulting to one in the absence of the other.
- If something is not good for growing into Love with others, let it go. As I relearned the good of sharing concerns with loved ones, I found that there were some concerns that just need to be let go. Assuming we are in healthy relationships, our concerns should be addressed to further those relationships and help each other. If we have concerns about the relationship that aren’t loving, we probably need to dig deeper. Do we know what really worries us? If so, is it helpful to the relationship? If not, can we let it go? I’ve found this process incredibly helpful for identifying anxious thoughts. My friends Matt and Natalie are really helpful with this kind of identification. Sometimes I find myself entirely overwhelmed with a concern that I think is insurmountable. Talking with Matt or Nat about a situation helps me answer the hard questions about my concerns and take agency of it rather than bowing under the weight of it. When I just need to let go – perhaps grow myself, or really, truly release something as unimportant – Matt and Natalie have a supportive, relaxed manner of reminding me that this is the case. They are living examples of “letting go.” I remember worrying about an aspect of my relationship that might happen someday to David and me (something about picking socks up off the floor, feeling disrespected, and all of life subsequently falling apart). I wanted to talk to David right away about how, if he didn’t pick up his socks, I would think he didn’t love me and we wouldn’t work out. Soon after that thought occurred, I realized I may need to hone that messaging, so I talked with Natalie. She and I both agreed that respect is a worthy concern. We also agreed that David made no indication of leaving his socks anywhere other than a drawer or a laundry basket (he’s a pretty clean fellow) now, or in any future timeline. Upon further discussion, I realized that there was nothing actually wrong in our relationship, so I might let the socks come if they will. I trust that, if David is a socks-on-the-floor guy, he is also a let’s-talk-this-out guy. But, I don’t need to prepare for every alternate reality. I would much rather live in this one. A reality where I currently don’t need to worry about socks – or any laundry – at all.
- Acknowledging the wisdom spaces makes them more beautiful than scary. For most of my life, I have toggled between the idea that things must necessarily be one thing, the other, or some medium blend of both. This never felt right and I almost always threw it out the window when I needed to be compassionate with others, but I always circled back to wrestling the extremes into “submission” in the wee hours after reading under the covers (oh, yes, that happens). Unfortunately, all the wrestling in the world did little to save my extremes from close examination – even the happy medium felt like a trite scapegoat. Somewhere along the way, I said, “the hell with it,” deciding to take individuals and single moments as they came, rather than forcing some larger opinion onto situations like a bad hat. Coincidentally, it was around this time that I began researching descriptive methods of language and fell in love with linguistics. While my “the hell with it” paradigm is certainly helpful, it doesn’t attend to pestering questions or encourage inner peace. And, honestly, I needed some peace and answered questions after the divorce. If you haven’t figured it out already, David is really smart, and really kind. He rose to the challenge of my questioning with books, podcasts, bible passages, and blogs at the ready. He talked with me for hours and hours as I hashed out all of my questions of extremes and things I thought I believed. He shared his own experiences with similar questions. Eventually, I came to terms with this radical idea David presented; things that seem cyclical, difficult, and unanswerable probably are. We are infinitely complex beings in an infinitely complex universe and we all have to interact with ourselves and our world. There is a seemingly infinite amount of subjectivity in every nook and cranny of life. There are even some unknowns. The Wisdom Literature (namely, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon) offers a good paradigm for respectfully acknowledging those uncomfortable spaces: both-and. Sometimes both extremes are possible. Sometimes it is both right for one person to be type A and also right for another person to be type B. Both-and sounds a lot like “the hell with it,” but instead of tossing everything out, it carefully lets everything in. Whenever David and I confront something that seems wrong and right at every turn, we laugh together, call it a wisdom space, and dive into it full of confidence. Wisdom spaces are hard and take time to figure out (hence the word wisdom). They often change – what may have worked previously might not work again – even if the variables don’t seem to change. Wisdom spaces require us to confront who we are, gather with mentors, and frequently, pray. Wisdom spaces, when approached with reverence and enthusiasm, are some of the most beautiful spaces our lives have to offer.
- No matter your background or life circumstances, there are others you will bless and be loved by. I don’t know that I every fully believed this until my divorce. In my high school days I was fortunate enough to meet some of these sweet friends like Emily, who sat on her kitchen floor with me late into the night just to laugh together on countless occasions but physical distance can be a hard thing to overcome in daily life; I didn’t believe that they would benefit from our friendship if they had the ability to spend regular time with me. People, though, are a lot like wisdom spaces. We are big, complex conglomerates of feelings, beliefs, and experiences… and those change often. I now think of all of the wonderful people who have been in my life without the expectations or constraints I used to maintain. As I said in part one of this doublet, some people are in our lives for a short time and some are lifers. All of them are people who can love us and bless us. And all of them are people we can love and bless if we believe it. I don’t think that will always look like we want or expect. I certainly didn’t expect to be blessed by my divorce, or to meet so many wonderful friends through that event and be loved again. But, I have learned that if we keep open minds and open hearts Love is there in the unity of friends.