Book Teaser: All You Need is Love (not)

As I read through what I have for this chapter of the book, I felt that it started off a tad too cynical for my liking. The point that I was trying to make was that the love you need for marriage is not one solely based on infatuation, but on committing to the action of love. You’ve heard it before, love is a verb. Anyhow, I took this teaser from a little further into the chapter. The time frame for this chapter was 9 months into the affair, 5 months since he had moved out. This chapter was our turning point, the period of time where everyone thought a miracle had happened in our marriage. My ex-husband came home, wanting me back, wanting our life back, scared to death that he almost lost it all. Well, spoiler alert! These desires weren’t exactly genuine. Here’s a little preview of the chapter that could have been a turning point toward a restored marriage, but instead was a turning point toward the new life God wanted for me. And as always, read chapters 1-6 if you haven’t already!

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7. All You Need is Love (not)

“…I love holidays, probably more than the average female. The flowers, the cards, the gifts, the dinners, the cocktails … I just love celebrating! With this in mind, BD took full of advantage of making his grand take me back plea on Mother’s Day. And was it ever grand. Had he followed through with anything he said that day, we would be sipping pina coladas on a beach in Mexico right now. Mother’s Day morning we went to our favorite restaurant where we’d celebrated many occasions in the past. It’s not a real kid type of place, but we brought our daughter anyhow and it made it all the more wonderful. I sipped mimosas, she was smiley and adorable, and there was the man I married returning from a five month “deployment” from our family.

After we had been sitting and sipping for a little while, BD handed me an envelope. Inside the envelope was a heartfelt card (he always had a way with words) and some hand-made coupons. After I read each coupon, he then went through each promise adding his own personal explanation. As we both had tears in our eyes looking at one another, he said, ‘if it’s okay with you, I’d like to put this back on for good’ and pulled his wedding ring out of his pocket.

Sounds like the scene of a (somewhat twisted) romantic comedy, right? Well, in the months to come there was nothing romantic or comedic about anything in our marriage. I knew this was going to be real hard. I knew that trust needed to be rebuilt and restored. I knew there’d be sad days and even more awkward ones. I knew that we needed joint determination for our marriage to be salvaged. Most disturbing, in a sense, I knew I was going to have to watch my husband go through a breakup. Well, the homewrecker was not ready to let him go and her hold on him was pretty damn strong.

The day BD moved all of his belongings back into our home was full of crazed emotions. I left for the day with our daughter and gave him time to sift through and re-organize his life back into ours. I recall this day being difficult for him. We didn’t go into details of sorts, but he was leaving behind this disgusting life that he wasn’t ready to completely let go of. Leaving behind a whirlwind of elated forbidden experiences. Both of our hearts were sad this day, but for different reasons. That night was a fun and familiar one. We watched a movie together, enjoyed some favorite foods, and drank some beers. We felt like us again. The fun was there. Smiles, laughter, and our familiar love for one another. If only we could ride that high out for longer than an evening.

The happy would happen and then, what felt like immediately, the sad came to match it. The next day, I was reorganizing our closet and dresser. Finding places for his clothing to once again live. As I was unpacking his bright blue duffle bag, I started noticing shirts I didn’t recognize. Ones he had most likely purchased with her. A style that wasn’t quite mine or his …

The first month BD was home, he was still in contact with the other woman (behind my back). Their attachment was strong and seemed to have this delusional power over him. Emotional attachment is a bitch and is not easily broken. When the attachment is strong and still alive, no real work can be done on the marriage. And any work on the marriage that is attempted while the supposed attachment is still alive is not beneficial. It gave BD a false sense of ‘impossible’ in terms of the outcome of our marriage. All he could focus on was the fresh ‘heartbreak’/loss of ‘real love’. It became pretty clear, BD was not really ready to fight …”

Image by Philip Leclerc

Mercy & Compassion

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This article is definitely for the Jesus folk. I geek out hard on how much I love Lent. I ramble about what I am learning during this season of sacrifice and repentance. And I share my hope of how I can accomplish all that needs renewing in my life.

Ever since I was young, I have always had a very strong connection with Lent. I love the idea of uniting myself in some distant way to Christ’s 40 days in the desert. In past years, what to give up has always been pretty clear. A stroll down memory lane had me reflecting on what indulgences I had given up in the past. Alcohol, social media, shopping, and other such habits. If you aren’t quite as pumped on Lent as I am, bite the bullet and read on anyhow. You may learn something new. First, some background information on the components that make up this beautiful time!

I read an incredible article by Mike Aquilina and The Catholic Education Resource Center about the three distinguishing marks of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer is defined in two ways, the raising of the heart and mind to God or conversation with God. “Prayer first means God is speaking to us and not the other way around,” says Father Kenneth Myers, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “That requires silence — the art of listening carefully to the Lord. And the best place to do that is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament requires real effort and commitment, but even when our hearts are dry and it seems fruitless to keep on praying, being before the Eucharistic Lord is like being in the sunlight — even by doing nothing we still absorb those powerful rays of light.”

One major partner in prayer is fasting. I once heard a story of a businessman who was asked why he fasts, he said, “It’s medicine for my biggest problem – selfishness and lack of self-control.” I would say that response sums up the fruit of fasting. Biblical Fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind. Fasting in the bible is always paired with prayer. You can obviously pray without fasting, but biblically you don’t see fasting without prayer.

The final component of the Lenten three-part chord is almsgiving. Alms are money or goods given to those in need as an act of charity. The word alms is used many times in the King James Version of the Bible. It comes from the Old English word ælmesse and ultimately from a Greek word meaning “pity, mercy.” In its original sense, when you give alms, you are dispensing mercy. I love that phrase, dispensing mercy. It illustrates an all-encompassing abundance of grace. Almsgiving is not specific to finances, but can be in time spent with others or putting another’s needs before yours.

To be quite real, this lenten season has not been my best in terms of discipline. I have fallen short on a few of the practices I wanted to include in my daily routine. However, I am determined to not get stuck on my shortcomings, but really basque in what God has to teach me. I am determined to take time to truly repent for things that God is showing me about my character. Some seasons are silent and confusing, unsure of what God is doing. In other seasons, the message is loud and clear and shows up everywhere you turn. That would be this current Lent. Loud and clear, mercy and compassion are everywhere. Or should I say, God is revealing that I need to be more merciful and compassionate.

Something I heard last Sunday at mass has had my mind going somewhat crazy (in a good way). The priest made a simple statement that got me thinking about how I represent the Church. He said, the church is meant to be the face of mercy and compassion to the world. Heard it all before? I know, I know. Those two words are so loaded though! I must be honest, mercy and compassion are not always easy for me. Especially when dealing with my ex-husband and his girlfriend (the other woman). Showing concern and forgiveness to people you’ve deemed undeserving is far from natural. If you’ve read, Forgiveness Matters, you know I talk a big forgiveness game. However, it’s still a decision. I am hoping in years to come it won’t be such a frequent and conscious one.

Below is one of the reflections from Matthew Kelly’s Best Lent Ever program:

Focus: When was the last time you had the courage to seek out the root of an important issue?

Act: Identify a problem in your life. Take it to prayer, and have the courage to get to the root of it.

Pray: Jesus, point me toward the root of things, and give me an extra nudge when I am tempted to settle for the shallow and the superficial.

Oh man. The shallow and superficial. I settle for this in how I treat others. Instead of mercy and compassion, I find myself forgiving in the bare minimum sense. When you’ve experienced infidelity, some days the bare minimum forgiveness feels like way more than you can handle. However, God’s desire is that we extend an arm of mercy and compassion with no limitations. This Lent I am praying hard for not an extra nudge, but a huge push. I am praying that God will reveal what mercy and compassion look like to those who are hardest to love. As with everything, it’s a process, but I am praying that God brings all of us to new levels of mercy and compassion, during this season especially. My prayer for this community is that God will equip us all with the supernatural grace for people who have deeply wronged us. Let us not put limits on who God extends His love to.

Image by Blessed Is She

Forgiveness Matters

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Scenes from the past three years of my life have looked very similar to an episode of a trashy talk show. Double lives, affairs, addiction, manipulation and all sorts of crazy in between. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, “This can’t be real life!” And worse off, it rarely died down. As soon as I thought the madness was lessening, I’d be jolted in the opposite direction with a whole new twist. Each new twist brought me to a deeper level of emotional exhaustion, heartbreak, and grief.

Our divorce was final this past April and I will say it’s been smooth(er) sailing since then. The finality felt nice. Not nice in a, “what great news!” type of way, but more in a freedom to start over knowing I gave my marriage my whole heart. I use finality lightly because in having our daughter, there is no real end to the relationship I hold with my ex-husband. Nor do I want there to be for the sake of my daughter.  She deserves parents that remain united in their love for her. However, still having him in my life does bring a tricky dynamic to put it politely. Mostly because it’s not just him, it’s them. The third party in our story stuck around.

There was much resistance on my end about the interactions that would come between her and my daughter. There was a full year where they did not see one another. I didn’t trust her intentions for my family (for obvious reasons) nor did I trust her character. Graciously, after a year had gone by of her respecting my request, I saw fit for my daughter to spend time with her. After all, my daughter was piecing together that Daddy’s “friend” lived at Daddy’s house. My daughter only had nice things to say about this new person in her life and if there’s one staple I could give for the entire divorce and rebuilding process, it would be, take the good with the bad.

If you’re currently sharing your child with someone you’d rather not, take heart. I will tell you flat out, splitting time with the other woman got easier. This time was never spent alone, always with my ex-husband supervising. Sifting through this new reality is a completely separate tangent. There are many practical and legal specifics that go into their current relationship. And these stipulations WILL change IF this woman takes on the role of stepmom. For now, I view her as an individual who shows care for my daughter (and lives with my ex-husband).  That very statement has been a gradual undertaking. The shift away from viewing her as the homewrecker is ongoing. One that is motivated by forgiveness.

This is fresh in my mind because last week I received an email from her. As I said before, since April life has been smooth(er), but there are loose ends. This was one of them. Her email offered an apology. Her words illustrated awareness of the destruction she caused. She spoke of her hope for a cordial blended family in the future. She understood if I didn’t respond. She understood if I still hated her. In short, my response to her read a little something like this: “My choice to forgive has been a process that I decided on three years ago, soon after everything went down. I say process because it is a decision I have to make over and over. Some days it’s easier than others and some days I am better at it than others. The past is behind us and life has moved on. People make mistakes and all we can do at this point is make the most of the situation we are in … I too have hopes of a blended family where everyone gets along famously, being that exception to the rule of tension and bitterness. We can navigate through that once it’s more of a reality though. As for now, thank you for reaching out and for showing care for my daughter.”

Many advised me not to respond, that she didn’t deserve to even hear from me. However, if I’ve learned anything it’s to keep your peanut gallery safe and protected. I saw her apology as brave and humble. This little back and forth between us had me reflecting on the forgiveness that has occurred over the past three years. I spent months where my mind would spin with questions like, “How do you forgive the person who took the life you loved, the heart of your spouse and the family your daughter deserved?” It always came back to committing to the decision, not the feeling. Ironic how that notion would have kept us from this mess in the first place.

The wisdom of C.S. Lewis acted as an anchor:

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

For me, I would replace love with forgiveness in the passage above, although if we are being real, the two go hand in hand. Nothing about forgiveness is easy. Nothing about it is deserved. However, the alternative leaves you in a bitter, emotional prison. My decision to forgive has pieced my heart back together. With all that piecing back together, I can honestly say I stand thankful to experience forgiveness at this great of depth. In a way, it gives me a humble glimpse into the forgiveness God graciously extends. And if you feel that forgiving is just too much, simply act as if you do, and you will. Commit to the decision, not the feeling.