Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Disciplines for 2018

This post first began writing itself in the far corners of my mind back on Friday, Dec 29th. A pastoral couple, clients of mine, got me into a smaller group meeting with Francis Chan.  If you're familiar with Francis Chan's speaking and writing, what I'm about to share won't be surprising, but in the middle of his talk, something lit up inside of me.  I became fully aware of just how long I'd been coasting, how atrophied I'd become in allowing our present relationship to be based upon a trust in God's unconditional love (not to downplay that realization, mind you) and a somewhat distant memory of intimacy.  It was like a pilot light being lit again in a cold and dark basement; the subtle rush of that woosh and the flicker of the small flame betraying the intensity of the heat about to start emanating from a newly renewed source of power.

Although, to be chronologically accurate, it might be better to describe that afternoon as the final adrenaline kick to a season of renewal that had gotten off to a half-hearted start a few months earlier.  Sometime back in November, I started spending about 30 minutes each morning practicing a version of the disciplines laid out in the book, Miracle Morning.   Here's a brief overview of that morning routine:
1) 5-15 minutes in silent prayer and meditation.  Sitting in meditative pose while repeating breathe prayers; "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner" or "I breath in Your love, I breath out Your peace."  A focus on God's living presence, a release of tension and worries or as the author described the practice of mediation, "a vacation from your problems."
2) Five minutes of journaling what I'm thankful for and how God has recently used me to serve the Kingdom.  In one of those "coincidences" that seem to happen when I'm actively pursuing God, I heard this sermon on how thankfulness rewires your brain just as I started this new discipline.
3) Five minutes of positive visualization.  I have to say, I still struggle with this.  Again, maybe a coincidence, but it helped me work through some really tough and volatile sales transactions.  Did the visualization bring the positive outcomes into reality?  Likely not.  I'm certain, though that the visualization allowed me to stay positive during some highly stressful situations.
4) Affirmations.  This is the rather cliche-ish, sales-man-y discipline but, again, the positivity is helping rewire the often-prone-to-negativity brain of mine.  I've found myself, when wanting to do the opposite of my affirmations, unconsciously reciting them in my mind, which allowed me to do the kind or difficult thing, despite not feeling like doing so, i.e. turning in that final French paper or apologizing to the mother of my son for a snide remark.

The "I'm-no-longer-coasting" and "turn-your-face-toward-the-Father" discipline that was catalyzed by the talk from Francis Chan is the discipline I've been practicing in the evening, about an hour or so before going to bed.  Again -  stop me if you've heard this before - while feeling that renewed passion inside of me but not yet sure how to direct that passion, I heard another sermon from Greg Boyd about the discipline of the daily review.
I spend 15 minutes each evening reviewing my day, listing out the major events of the day and then writing out my own reaction to those events and my perception of how the Spirit was active in each of them.  I'll finish by reading a lectionary passage or two for the upcoming Sunday.
As I write this, it's dawning on me that I'm simply describing a practice of prayer, journaling and Bible reading.  Real innovative and profound, I know.  Maybe I can make it sound a bit more high-minded by describing it as a version of a daily St. Ignatius Examen.  Maybe.
What has me most excited about this, though is how Greg Boyd stated in that sermon that the journaling will provide a historical record of how God's presence has been with me through this current journey.  As  I wrote about in the shame post, it's been awhile since I've been aware of, or even wanted to be aware of, that Presence.

There's another discipline I've added at the start of the year, too and it's not really something I enjoy - swimming.  A buddy in the office, another agent, convinced me to do the sprint portion of the KC Triathlon in May.  Running a 5K after 12 miles on a bike shouldn't be too bad and will likely only take about a month's worth of training (or that's what I'm telling myself right now, as I haven't yet started training for that portion of the race) but the swimming might damn near kill me.  I've heard drowning is one of the most painful ways to die.  While I haven't yet drowned, I have swallowed about half the water in the YMCA lap pool.  Thankfully, a lifeguard took pity on me and taught me how to float on my side for a bit, with one arm extended forward, while regaining my breath.  I don't care if I finish last but I will make that swim.  It's only 500 freakin' meters.  In my current state of swimming capacity, however it might as well be 10 miles.

While waiting to find out whether or not I drown, you can get motivated by reading the daily affirmations I tell myself each morning.  Or just roll your eyes at the over-the-top positivity, as I'd do were the roles reversed...

- I enjoy spending time with God each day, through scripture reading and mediation/prayer
- I enjoy being present, patient and emotionally available for Dawson; parenting through choices and not control
- I enjoy being in a stable, healthy, long-term relationship but for now, I’m okay with being single
- I enjoy being kind to and getting along with my ex-wife

- I enjoy spending time each week serving others by helping at church and spending time with and helping feed the hungry and homeless

- I enjoy playing the piano consistently
- I enjoy reading consistently
- I enjoy improving my French/working on a degree
- I enjoy writing consistently

- I enjoy lifting weights twice a week
- I enjoy weighing 193lbs
- I enjoy making good food choices
- I will swim 500 meters

- I enjoy earning enough money for a comfortable living
- I will sell six listings this year
- I will sell 4 million in 2018
- I will develop a rental property base as a source of income
- I enjoy making my daily contacts

Monday, January 8, 2018

Two Christmases

The holidays have a way of bringing up emotions we thought were buried, or to be even more hopeful, completely gone. 

 I moved out last December 16th but I had a plan for dealing with Christmas in the new relational state; I hopped a plane and flew to Los Angeles to spend a week with one of my best friends, Michael, who pastors a church in Visalia.  If you've never traveled on Christmas, you should know that you can get cheap flights on that day.

Michael and I have been friends since high school.  In fact, we were "called" into ministry at the same Iowa District church camp.  After attending both college and seminary together, we moved into our respective ministry positions; Michael a staff position that eventually lead to a couple of different lead pastor roles and (well known if you've read this blog) I moved to Gardner to start a new congregation.  The answer to the question, "who do I go visit when my life falls apart"? was obvious; it's my good friend, Michael.

It was a great week.  Exactly what I needed.  We watched bowl games, went to see Rogue One and  had some late night conversations.  He was okay with me crying a bit as we talked.  I also ate so many fresh oranges from a parishioner's orchard that I got a freakin' infection.

The best part, though was spending a couple of days hiking through the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

It was a good week of healing and reconnecting.

This year, I stayed home, giving me a perfect view of the light snow that fell over KC on Christmas Eve morning.  Dawson was with me the evening of the 23rd till the evening of the 24th.  We opened presents Christmas Eve morning and then worshiped in the incredible candle light service that Rez Downtown does each year.  

All those emotions of the holidays, they came up during that Christmas Eve service.  I just kept running my fingers through Dawson's hair as we sang Christmas carols, letting some happy tears roll down my face.  I wrote here about the Christmas Eve service I experienced at Jacob's Well, after dropping off Dawson, which helped me reflect upon all the healing that had happened during the past year.  I spent that evening doing my regular Christmas Eve tradition of watching the 1954 version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  

Christmas Day itself, though was a new tradition for me, I (mostly) spent the day alone.  With Dawson with his mom and my family five hours away, I spent the day packing my apartment in preparation for the move I made two days later.  I was, though able to make Charles Dickens somewhat proud, by spending a few hours with a group from Free Hot Soup KC bringing food to people living in homeless camps around the city.  I found myself wondering the same thing while spending a few hours out in the freezing cold as when watching the scenes in A Christmas Carol, "how do people live outside in this weather?"  I really don't understand how they survive.  It's also hard to explain how an entire homeless population hides in plain sight, in the middle of the city.

I guess I experienced some new realities these past two Christmases. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Redeeming Your Story

We all tell ourselves stories; narratives about why the future is going to look a certain way and reasons for why the past turned out the way it did.

Sometimes our stories take unexpected left turns.  Which is why I found myself first fighting back tears, before eventually just letting them flow, while listening to this sermon during last year's Christmas Eve service.
Funny, I re-listened to that sermon later and it felt much less direct than it did that night.
Pastor Tim talked about Jesus stepping into the story-gone-wrong for the people of Israel and how that act of Incarnation 2,000 years ago is still allowing Jesus to step into, and redeem, our broken stories.  I found myself in some serious need of redemption last Christmas Eve.

The following will be a brief summary of how I've found some of that redemption.

One way is in reshaping the narrative I tell about myself.  For years, I saw myself as The Good Kid.  The one who could perform and follow the rules, even when no one else could.  If I wanted to keep my scholarship, keep my ordination, keep my social standing, keep my....   I had to follow the rules.  And I was good at it.  Mostly...

During the above mentioned Christmas Eve service, I sat next to someone I'd been friends with since high school, attended seminary with her husband and served with in starting a "New Married" Sunday School class way back in the day.
During a college reunion in 2005, she joked to the rest of the group that, back during our church camp days, Donnie (i.e. The Good Kid) was always the only one who, unlike everyone else, didn't have a bunch of sins to confess. Yep, that was me, The Good Kid.
Just as in the other example I'm about to share, she and I talked through that recently because I had to go back and revisit that conversation, over a decade later.  While she graciously apologized for making that off-hand comment, the simultaneous pride and shame that her statement birthed in me was all on me, not her.

Ten years previous to that college reunion, exactly ten years to the month, I was sitting in the back of the school bus with a close friend as we were returning home from being the sacrificial lamb to Washington High School's homecoming sacrifice to the football gods (I'll forever be sans a big toenail thanks to the 300 pound lineman I unsuccessfully tried to block during that game).  Just like me, this friend grew up in a strong, Christian family.  He spent his high school years, however living by a slightly different moral code than did I.
"Donnie, I respect you, man.  You're always the one who can be counted on to make the right decision, even when everyone else is going the opposite way."

Yep, that was me, The Good Kid.  

Not surprisingly, he and I revisited that conversation.  It happened 21 years later, when coming back from a Royals game.  I had to be honest about how that conversation had shaped the identity as The Good Kid but how I'd fairly recently arrived at a different identity, how I'd been able to change that narrative.
The new identity (what was actually true all along) and the narrative I'm trying to live by is that I'm just A Kid.  No qualifier or adjective, I'm just A Kid.

So much freedom to be found in living into a role rather than living by rules.

Another part of this story, a recent development that I in no way saw coming, is this new role of helping others who are finding themselves in the midst of their own hard left turn (also known as a divorce).
Within an hour of sharing my first blog post via Facebook, I was overwhelmed by people reaching out to me, sharing their own stories and even asking for advice (as if I really have much good advice to give, other than to share my own experience).
The power to help others redeem their own story isn't found in my amazing advice-giving skills, though but in the simple fact that I'm publicly discussing such a difficult topic.  Facebook messages, phone conversations, prayers and counselor recommendations are just some of the activities I've recently found myself engaging in.

To quote the friend who sat next to me during the Christmas Eve service, "Donnie, it sounds a lot like ministry."
Or a good friend who pastors in Central California, "Don't waste your pain, Donnie."
Or a good friend who pastors up the coast in Northern California, "Donnie, in speaking with a pastoral voice but with a freedom no practicing pastor actually has, you are living into your calling."

Well, that was a little unexpected, especially when all I wanted to do was write.  But I believe that's how God's Incarnation-into-Redemption usually works, it comes as a surprise.  A baby?  A blog post?  Okay... that might be a stretch...

I think though, that it could be understood how I felt like this theme of our story being redeemed came, at least somewhat, full-circle when Pastor Tim preached this sermon on the first Sunday of Advent about our good and generous God who is writing a good and generous story.

And it was no stretch at all to feel like things had come full circle last night, when sitting in the same balcony, next to the same friend and preparing to once again light the Christmas Eve candles.  Even though it was just less than 24 hours ago, I can't remember anything about Pastor Tim's sermon.  I can, however remember the presence of peace in my heart, the acknowledgement of newly earned wisdom in my brain and the new sense in my spirit of how God truly is redeeming my story.

I gave my friend a hug before leaving and told her it was nice to sit next to her and not cry this Christmas Eve.  She agreed.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Rewrite

So... I rewrote some stuff.  Here's the stupidly naive, ignorant or self-centered thing about it all... I didn't expect to have to do so.  I'm not quite sure what all was going on in my brain, but I think that maybe those narratives I shared were so ingrained in my memory that I didn't think about how they'd feel to those closest to Erin.  It was stuff that happened.  That's it.  It was, however, my view on the things that happened.  I'm fully aware that other viewpoints exist.

Another crazy thing is that I shared these posts with quite a few friends before sharing on Facebook.  Each friend I shared them with would be someone I'd describe as insightful and honest, most of whom love and care for Erin.  Yet none of them challenged me on anything.  In fact, some of them thanked me for the attitude with which I wrote the posts.  Maybe they were just avoiding conflict .  Quite possibly the intention with which I thought I was writing the posts actually came through.  Maybe they saw the bigger picture of what I was trying to do and thus didn't think much of the parts that would be labeled as "hurtful."  Whatever the reason, we all clearly missed something.  For what it's worth, I take some solace (i.e. feel less like an insensitive idiot) that those people missed it.

Then those closest to Erin read the posts.... that's when the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan.  I guess it would suffice to say that they believed me to be forming a narrative that made myself look good by demeaning Erin.  Which, surprise, surprise, they believed to be slightly below board (or just downright inexcusable).

My initial reaction was to be defensive, "of course you have to say that, you're family."  Upon further reflection, I decided I needed to listen to their perspective, which means I do two things: 1) apologize and 2) rewrite the parts perceived to be out-of-line.

Later on, also upon further reflection, a lot of those friends who first didn't see much hurtfulness came back to me and said, "Donnie, I can certainly see how some of what you said could be perceived as hurtful."

I for sure need to listen to those voices, so I am.

Years ago, when I was leading a church, I had some difficult conflict.  All pastors go through it, but this was my first time handling something of that magnitude.  As is often the case, I had no idea it was going to cause such a shit storm, but it sure did.
I had some voices from outside the situation, people for whom I have great respect, telling me, "it's okay, Donnie, you did nothing wrong, stand your ground."  So I adopted that siege  mentality and stood firm.
Needless to say, that didn't work so well.

So now I find myself in a similar situation.  This time, I'm going to listen much more readily to the voices of dissent, those telling me that what I did was wrong.  They can obviously see something in my actions that I was either blind to or intentionally ignoring.

I can be "right" and alone or gracious and apologetic and stay in relationship with people.

Two things convinced me, last night, that I needed to make some changes and apologize.
1) I read this quote:
"Behavior which is superficially correct, but is intrinsically corrupt always irritates those who see beneath the surface."
- James Bryant Conant
I think it's quite possible that the former in-laws who are off-the-charts mad at me are able to see some motives in my writing that I'm not consciously aware of (at best) or justifying away (at worst). I'm not able to figure out the answer to that now, but I have listened to them, which means I'm rewriting some stuff and apologizing to them.  I took the parts of my story that I shared that they construed as hurtful and unnecessary and rewrote them with a much more neutral narrative.

2) My mom asked me, on the phone last night, "didn't it occur to you that what you wrote would be hurtful to Erin"?
"No," was my honest answer.
"Had she written similar things about me, it wouldn't have hurt me."
"Well, Donnie, she's a woman, so she feels things differently than you."
"Good point, mom.."

My mom used to always tell me, as a kid, "if you hurt someone, even if you don't mean to, you have a responsibility to apologize."

So I'll deal with personal apologies, but take this as my public apology.

I think that re-writing those hurtful parts allows me to focus upon what the whole point of what my blogging was in the first place, to talk publicly about the taboo topic of Christians and divorce, allowing myself and others to battle the shame that grows in the hiding places.

A mentor of mine, who prayed for us at our wedding, asked that we'd always remember the nine most important words of a marriage, "I was wrong.  I am sorry.  Please forgive me."  Well, that didn't work out so well for the marriage but I think those words also apply to navigating life after a marriage.

Causing pain truly wasn't my intent, but it happened, so I've gotta own that.  And I've gotta apologize for it.

So I adopt those words of my mentor as my own, again.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Public Grief

The ministry partnership that was "Donnie and Erin" touched a lot of people.  I sometimes forget, or lose perspective of, just how many people.
Just like how often I forget just how many FB friends I really have.

So I'm going to process some of the response I received... out loud... publicly... again.

Here's what I'd like to start by stating, I'm sharing my story, as I experienced it.
Erin has her own story and perspective.  If she doesn't publicly write about it, I'd encourage you to ask her share it with you.
I'd think that most people who know both of us would realize the truth likely lies between our two perspectives.

My former sister-in-laws believe I'm totally in the wrong.  My own sister thinks I'm totally in the right.  Once again, I'm sure the truth lies in the middle.  Of course, all of them experienced the breakdown of the marriage from their own perspective and have processed the grief in their own way, particularly how the divorce impacted their sibling.

So in a statistical analysis, you throw out the extremes and work for the mean (or something like that).

I received some polar opposite responses from people for whom I have the utmost respect, people with whom we've ministered in the past.  Some thought I was kind and gracious, some were upset that I went too far.

The vast majority thanked me for sharing honesty and respectfully, including the way I talked about Erin.  Though I'll readily admit that majority does not equate to rightness, maybe a lot of them didn't even read everything I wrote.  Not all were in agreement, however, some people took particular exception with my sharing what that counselor told me, after the fact, based upon what he'd observed in some pretty intense, open and honest circumstances.
That was an important part of my story and healing.  Even so, sharing it did make me nervous and I wasn't sure whether it was right.

I still don't know whether sharing that was the right thing to do, actually.  When I asked the friends who thought I was kind and gracious to re-read it, some of them suggested I take it down, while also affirming they could I understand why I wanted to share it.  They all, however agreed they could understand why it upset some people.

That statement was life-giving to me.  Sharing it however, was not life-giving to Erin or others.  For the meantime, I've taken it down off my blog.

Is that an apology or admission or guilt?  Not sure either are warranted, but I'm open to the possibility that they are.

I went into that meeting asking the counselor how I could love my ex-wife in a Christ-like way, which, believe it or not, I try to.  I try to be forgiving, understanding and let go of some things that are (in my perspective) unjust and hurtful. I believe Erin tries to do the same. We both fail quite regularly.

Some people were upset that I'd talk about the divorce openly at all.  I can also understand that perspective, though I don't agree with it.  I don't think it's wrong to process this publicly.  I can however,  be more careful about sharing certain details and be more self-aware of my motives.

Erin and I served in a lot of different capacities and touched a lot of lives.  Even if we fall out of contact with them, there still exists an emotional connection.  Maybe this whole FB drama is allowing our "long-lost friends" to truly grieve the loss of Donnie and Erin's marriage.  Or maybe I'm being too sentimental.

With that said, I never actually meant for it to be an attack on Erin, or working-out-of-our-issues on FB, though many see it that way.  Some of the reasons for people coming to that conclusion, I think, are due to a different interpretation than what I was trying to communicate.  Another possibility is people seeing something in my words that I'm not able to see for myself.

Or maybe it's simply some people who care about us pointing out that I'm being a douche-nozzle.  Maybe those who thanked me for the content and manner of my writing are wrong.  Maybe those upset are correct and I'm just deluding myself...

Why Do We Hide our Shit?

Within hours of sharing my first blog entry on FB, I was overwhelmed with the number of people messaging me, in private, thanking me for having the courage to talk openly about divorce and then opening up about their own marital struggles.  What struck me, and hurt me, was not only the sheer volume of messages I received, but also the fact that every single person asked me to keep their story confidential.

Here's something I immediately learned upon receiving all of those messages, We need to trust the grace of other Christians.  Not everyone will be safe, but it's worth being hurt by a few to receive the grace that will be offered by the majority.

Why don't we trust that majority?  Maybe it's our own pride keeping us from being vulnerable.
We say "I'm scared of how others will respond" but the deeper reason (the reason which we hide behind) is that we're too proud to share our failures, or too worried about how other people perceive us that we don't want to reveal our struggles.  At least, I certainly believe that to be true of myself.

I'm gonna share a story that I've processed through with several friends and therapists.  As the whole point of my public blogging is to overcome the shame I faced and to possibly help others do the same, I'll process publicly something I've already shared with various people.

We both had crutches.  We all, to be honest, have crutches.  Some are more consequential than others. I've talked with quite a few people about a couple of crutches I'm going to describe and I've been given various opinions in regards to how to interpret them.  

My first crutch, as I referenced in an earlier blog, was to check out.  And I did, check out, about 75% of the time from The Declaration till The Move Out.
 When I was checked out, I noticed how many nice looking women my age at church weren't wearing wedding rings and I began to wonder what it would be like to start over.
That wasn't great.  Not at all.  It certainly didn't help.  No, it was a strong contributing factor to le divorce.  As I've processed it with some people, they've suggested it was self-defense.  Maybe, but self defense isn't always justified.

The other crutch was an emotional entanglement.  It was basically a professional relationship, met on professional terms and with a somewhat professional goal.  Maybe the best way to describe it is that we both had a shared interest in linguistic and cultural betterment (is that clinical enough?)  I could sense where the line was and felt I only approached it once, in regards to sharing too personal of info.

But where I truly crossed the line was in using that friendship to cope with what was happening in my marriage.  Where I crossed the line was hiding that from my wife (at the time, though I eventually told her).  Even though it never became romantic, I used the fact that a smart and attractive lady was interested in my life as a crutch to deal with my pain.  Even with no romance being involved, it still felt great to get that attention.

Here's the ironic part; she never saw it that way as a result of both my subtlety and her being in a different place, relationally, than I was.  Which just goes to show how messed up my thinking was at the time, how I was desperately grabbing for anything.  Any type of attention feels like cold water when you're emotionally dying of thirst.

Those were two unhealthy crutches.

Worse than any of those crutches, though and what I believe to be the most significant contribution to the end of my marriage was that my heart became calloused.  I wrote earlier that from The Declaration till The Move Out, I was only fully engaged for about two full months.  Those were the months I felt like the engagement was being reciprocated.   Sure, there were many days in which I woke up determined that "today I'm going to love her like I should..." only to give into the emotional resistance that immediately came up between us as soon as we were in the same room.  That emotional wall felt stronger than any physical wall.  

There's so much other shit I could share, but I think this is a good start.  Shame loses its power when brought out into the open.

To quote that insightful prophet, Marshal Mathers, "... cause tonight, I'm cleaning out my closet."  Though I think the similarities between my story and that video stop with that quote...

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Paris, encore et encore

 I once spent a year in Paris. It was awesome. It was also hell-on-earth.

I often summarize the year by stating, "it was simultaneously the best year of my life and the worst year of my life." I wrote all about that year on this blog, so I won't go into detail about that year. Other than to tell this story.

It was a beautiful spring day. The day before, Erin and I made plans to take Dawson to school together and then take the train into the city, spending the day together in Paris. In what was a common refrain that year, well intentioned plans fell apart.  Neither of us handled this change of plans very well, leading to yet another intense fight. This fight was different than the others, though.

Somehow we moved from the Hotel de Ville till we were standing in the middle of one of the city's medieval bridges spanning the Seine River. What happened next will forever be seared in my memory. In the middle of a raging argument, time seemed to slow down and I became intensely aware of my surroundings; the feel on my skin of the warm sun combined with the chill in the air, the tourists passing us by and the cold, grey stone which composed the bridge. What struck me most, though was the beauty of the sun's rays dancing on the waves of the Seine. The bridges over the Seine, linking the two sides of Paris, quite possibly one of the most romantic sites in the entire world.

I don't remember the words but I can feel the intense anger.  I can also still hear my own voice inside my head, "well, this is it. Our marriage is going to die right here, standing on a bridge over the Seine in the 'City of Love.'" Maybe it didn't end right then but it was a serious nail in the coffin.

As I wrote in the first entry in this series, the death of our marriage (an inevitable event?) was sped up during our year in Paris. And yet, as you would notice were you to read a few entries from the blog I linked to above, I thoroughly enjoyed the year in Paris. As someone in our church remarked, "Every street in Paris is an outdoor museum." And I explored as many of those museum-streets as possible. I also tried to take Dawson to every park in the city. We often spent weekends exploring parks in every arrondisement of the city.

I lead so many groups and individuals around the city, both during that year and later with a collegiate study-abroad program that I finally tried to follow the advice of all those people who told me I should be a Paris tour-guide. Last year, I tried to put together a guided tour of Paris. A lot of people expressed interest and in the midst of receiving all that interest, N decided to join me on the trip. Well, none of those people who said they wanted to go ended up joining the trip, so it ended up being just the two of us; N had her own private tour guide.

It was an amazing week. We visited the touristy stuff sure but I was also able to show her some of the more hidden gems of that city. To her credit, N convinced me to try some places I hadn't visited during that entire year in the city. We even got to share a meal with some of the people from the church where I'd served as a volunteer pastor.

Some Parisian "joi de vivre"

The Versailles Church building

The Thursday afternoon in June meal

I was able to share the many aspects I loved about that city with an amazing travel companion.  Our last night was spent walking along the Seine, observing the various ways Parisians experienced their joi de vivre in a city full of sensual delights.  N turned to me and said, "I wasn't completely sold on Paris the first few days, but now I understand why you love this city so much."

That statement made my trip.  It was wonderful to experience the joys of that city with her.

As I wrote earlier, I broke up with her a few weeks later.

In response to that emotional decision, I decided to take another trip to Paris.  I did so in late September/early October.  While my trip with N was about exploring the light and beautiful parts of Paris, the solo trip ended up being about exploring the emotional darkness of the city where my marriage fell apart and about facing and reuniting with the congregation we tried to serve while we were there.

Back in October of 14, when leading the group of college students around Paris, we had the chance to spend a Sunday afternoon in the Versailles Gardens with some close friends.  While walking around the basin, feeding ducks and swans, the husband made an off-hand comment about how he can't understand why people can get a divorce.
That was a comment that I shamefully carried with me for years.

What I'm about to share, though won't be a surprise if you've been reading this blog...
When that couple found out about the divorce, they made a point to tell me that I'm still loved and a part of the church family.  I got to spend a wonderful afternoon with that family, an afternoon filled with quiche, wine, good conversation, laughs and grace.

The church even had a post-worship meal together, welcoming me back.  It's hard to put into words how wonderful that felt.

I also had the chance to spend hours talking with the missionary whom I worked with/for while there.  We talked about so much yet I can hardly remember the details.  I do know, however that the conversation will likely be remembered as one of the more significant post-divorce healing moments.

Making the conversation more significant was where Brian met me.  He met me at the park outside the apartment where we'd lived.  I told him I'd be spending some time there that morning, sitting on a bench, looking at the apartment where Erin first said she wanted a divorce and I eventually came to agree with that decision.

I had to feel that pain.  I had to retrace my steps, immerse myself back into the dark pain caused  by  the death of my marriage.  I had to face that apartment on Rue Parc d'Ardenay.  I had to face the congregation I was trying to serve while simultaneously knowing Erin and I weren't going to make it.  I had to have an honest conversation with the missionary I'd tried to help for a year while also trying to hide from him just how miserable my life was.

And I did.  I faced it all.  The apartment lost its power over me.  The church welcomed me with open arms.  The missionary helped set me free from some false guilt and unwarranted regrets.

I did sit on my seat on the plane for the flight home, but I think I might've been able to fly back across the Atlantic with my own wings.  The absence of that emotional weight was physically noticeable.

I still love Paris.  I can't wait to go back. Again and again...

I just love wandering the streets of Paris
Paris at night, in the rain - a beautiful sight
After our Sunday meal
"Les esclaliers de la butte..."
Brian Ketchum, AKA "The Missionary"


How do I write this without once again giving into grief?

Or maybe that's not the right question because I haven't had many moments of grief over the past year.

But that's not to say I didn't grieve.  I grieved.  Deeply.  Most of that, though happened during the 2.5 years between The Declaration and The Move Out.  I already wrote about all the crying I did when  The Declaration first happened.  I wrote about sobbing in a therapists office, though that happened in other therapists offices, too.

One Sunday afternoon in October of 15, I was standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes and listening to one of my favorite musicals, Once.  Keep in mind, this was 14 months before The Move Out

Part of me/ Has Died/ And won't return/ And part of me/ Wants to hide/ The part that's burned
Once, once/ Knew how to talk to you/ Once, once/ But not anymore
Hear the sirens call me home
Part of me/ Has vied/ To watch it burn
And the heart of me/ Has tried/ But look what it's become
Once, once/ I knew how to look for you
Once, once/ But that was before
Once, once/ I would have laid down and died for you
Once, once/ But not anymore.
Hear the sirens call me home

I moved out on a Friday afternoon.  I went to Ikea that evening to get some furniture for my new place.  The ride home was snowy and as a result of the guy ahead of me losing control of his vehicle, I got into a minor accident.  The frustration of that was tempered, though by the fact that I narrowly missed getting t-boned by another out-of-control vehicle.

The accident could've happened earlier, though as a few minutes before my car slid out of control, it was taking all my effort to simply keep my eyes on the road.  It was surprisingly hard to concentrate on the road as I was sobbing, pounding the steering wheel, yelling out F-bombs - all while listening to this song.

 I've only cried a few times since that day, though.

The most significant was the actual divorce hearing.  It took every ounce of strength I had to  continue to agree to the things the judge was asking of me and not break down and double over with sobs.  In looking at the judge and feeling the people around me, I kept having flashbacks to the face of the pastor who married us and the 300+ people who surrounded us that day.  The act of "undoing" my vows was one of the more difficult things I'd ever done.  During the walk from the courthouse back to my apartment, though I felt a wave of relief.
I did, though cry myself to sleep that night.

I still get blindsided by the occasional moment of grief.  While it's always unexpected, I can always pinpoint the reason.  A movie, a song, something that stirs some sort of emotional memory.

While we are both still breathing, we experienced a significant and painful death.  Not only the death of our marriage but the death of our ideals, our dreams, our expectations of what life would be like and the future we'd always assumed we'd experience.

Back in 2002, when we first set up our IRA accounts, we put everything in my name because it would be easier.  I remember telling stating, "it does't matter whose name the account is in, it's not like we're ever getting a divorce."

For the record, a divorce decree allows you to transfer money from an IRA tax and penalty free.  It's cheaper than a death tax but possibly more painful.  Either way, it will leave a scar.