Take Me Home Country Roads

My commute to the office usually takes about twenty-five minutes.  It’s two-lane, country driving the entire way along one of the Illinois’ River Roads.  My landmarks as I drive are a railroad crossing, a bald eagle nest, and a couple of roadside picnic benches.  There usually isn’t much traffic, but you do have to watch for deer.  Especially during the rut.

This time of year, I watch for turtles.  So far, I’ve stopped and given a crossing assist to five of them, parking along the roadside with my hazards flashing.  (Only one peed on me…but that’s a different story.)

It’s a lovely drive.  It’s the same drive that my Chicago friends have to make when they come visit me at the ranch.  Nearly every one of them has commented on it; it isn’t like the drives they’re used to into and out of the city.

As for me, I try to be mindful of it, but as often as not, I don’t really notice the drive as I’m making it.  Today I was driving home around 5:00, and I got stuck at the railroad crossing.  A train had stopped on the track.  Traffic was stacked fifteen cars deep when I pulled up.

I had been daydreaming about getting home in time to make the early evening hot yoga class at my yoga studio in town.  Sweat.  Stretch.  Zone out.  Bliss out.  I was pre-congratulating myself on just how mindful and zen I was about to get.   (Look at me, self-caring the shit out of this evening.)

I was thinking about it as I stopped.

And waited.

Five minutes.  (I can still make it if the train starts going….now…)

Ten minutes.  (Cars start turning around.)

Fifteen minutes.  (If I turn around I won’t stand a chance.)

Seventeen minutes.  (I don’t stand a chance anyway.)

I did a three-point turn and started driving back towards the office, my “preemptive zen” rapidly being replaced by annoyance and mild bitterness.

I took the first right turn available, hoping it wasn’t a dead end, allowing my inner critic to lecture me about missing the yoga class I had been planning to attend.  Suddenly, it wasn’t just an unfortunate circumstance resulting in shifted plans, it was a ruined evening.

(Maybe now would be a good time to mention that I lost a pet yesterday, the third in about a month.  I’ve been out of sorts and anxious for several weeks now, parsing through feelings and emotions that my brain doesn’t really want me to feel.  My stress levels have been running high.)

Then, about a mile down this road I’ve passed a million times but have never driven down, I started to notice.

It was lovely.  Truly lovely.

Cornfields and meadows hugged the sides of the road.  Quiet fields on each side hedged by the ridge line of the river valley.  Wildflowers.  Small houses, some of which have probably stood there nearly a century.   The clouds were rolling in above.  Asphalt rolled by below.

I crossed a creek.  Drove by old barns being reclaimed by the land: red-painted timbers fading gray.  I watched a turkey vulture wobble his wings against a thermal in the distance.

I’ve lived in this area most of my life, but I had never driven down that road.

I didn’t know it was there, eventually looping back around to the state highway, hidden away just a bit.  It’s beautiful in an understated, distinctly Midwestern, way.  Family farms. A creek rushing to the river.  Corn that stretches emerald green into the distance.

My detour lasted maybe ten minutes.

My class was starting by the time I came out the other side, but that didn’t matter quite as much as it had when I turned off the main road.

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the universe gives you the gift of what you need even if it isn’t what you had been looking for.   Even when you vehemently explain to the universe that you know exactly what you need to do to feel connected again–because mindful, zen, yoga dammit!!!—sometimes the universe has the good sense to send you down a little detour instead.

I found a little dose of serenity.  A tiny reminder that there is beauty all around us if we open our eyes once in a while.

Dear ones, never underestimate the power of a little detour and a country road.

Country Roads Take Me Home
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On Shearing and Doing Hard Things

This is me.

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This is me on an almost 90 degree day, after shearing nine of my llamas over the course of about two hours.

This is me sweaty and exhausted.  Covered in tiny bits of wool.  Thoroughly uncomfortable

And thrilled that my animals were cool again.

 

 

For those of you who don’t know, llamas are wool-bearing animals and must be shorn yearly.  Without shearing, they’re particularly susceptible to heat stress, which can kill them…pretty quickly.  This is especially true in places where it gets HOT.  And in Illinois?  It gets HOT.

Seventeen years ago, when I started working on this ranch as an almost-fifteen year old, I was immediately thrown into the work of shearing prep.  Back then, there were sixty llamas instead of eighteen, and they were on a work rotation of grooming and washing that left them fluffy, clean, and ready to be shorn.  Shearing was our goal for months.

A shearer was hired in from out of state, and our shearing weekend was orchestrated like an professional event.  People were assigned roles.  (Halterer, holder, wool gatherer, etc.  There was a clipboard and everything.)  We were a well-oiled, shearing machine that started at precisely 8 am and made it through sixty animals in two days.  Plus, my bosses kept me well stocked in Gatorade and Red Bull (ugh, yes, I used to drink Red Bull), and they bought all of us lunch.

A few years ago when my ex and I took over the farm, he took over shearing.  Friends helped when they had time–gathering wool or grabbing the next animal in line while I held and he sheared–and we bought them lunch.  We were down to about thirty animals then.

Over the next few years, the animals became fewer.  (Some of you have read about how we lost several of them.)  Shearing became less of an event.  My ex would just disappear for a bit, and then come back and tell me that he sheared a few animals.

Then, last year, I got a divorce.   He got his much-desired freedom.  I got a ranch he didn’t want to be tied down to, sixty animals I loved, and a list of about one thousand things to do that I didn’t know how to do, including shearing.  (Also, a mild mental breakdown…but I’ll get into that later…maybe.)

He sheared for me last year, after our divorce, and told me that he always would if I wanted him to.  Instead, I had him teach me how to do it myself, sensing even then that he would move onto something else very quickly, and that we wouldn’t stay friends forever.

He obliged.

I was right.

And this year, I did all of it.

I sent my shears off to be maintained.  I ordered new blades. I ignored the newly cleaned and sharpened shears for a week, afraid to tackle my next hard thing.

When the weather turned stupid hot, I stood in my feed room in a mild panic when I couldn’t immediately remember how to install the blades on the shears.

Then, I googled how to install the blades correctly.

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Panic. 

Eighteen llamas and alpacas.

I haltered.  I prepped.  I sheared.  I was the shearing team, and no one bought me lunch.  Most stood tied without a holder.  For one particularly smart llama–who figured out how to unplug the shears because he didn’t like them–I had to call my dad into hold, so he couldn’t reach the cord, but mostly I did it myself.

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It took me three days and a lot of Gatorade, but the whole herd is shorn and de-wormed.  (I figured I would do bi-yearly shots while I was at it.)  And, honestly?  I’m pretty proud of myself.  I’m also pretty proud of my llamas and alpacas who mostly behaved really well.

Also, while I was trying to collage photos of newly shorn llamas, I created a “push-me, pull-you.”  (You’re welcome.)

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Turns out, shearing is another thing I can do; it’s amazing what you can figure out if you have to.

I was watching the llamas today as they grazed, cool and comfortable with their wool shorn off and bagged up in the barn.  The breeze was soft.  Crickets and frogs were chirping, and I was struck, yet again, by the fact that there is no where else on the planet I would rather be.  This place has stretched me again and again.  It is the hard thing that I have to tackle every day.  And it’s the right thing.

I can do hard things.

So can you.  I promise.

Letting “Good Enough” be Good Enough: The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok

I’ve started this blog post three times.  Each time, Amelia, one of my three dogs, shoves her nose under my elbow and nudges my arm, asking for attention.  Each time, my fingers lose their space on the keyboard; I backspace and start over.  One of those times, my puppy, Rose, joins in, but in her poor “puppy” form, she makes the mistake of grabbing my hand in her mouth (albeit gently), resulting in a reprimand.

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They give up, bored, and curl up on their beds across the room.  I’m granted a moment to myself, and I keep typing.

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This week, I forgot two loads of laundry in my washer…for four days.   The chicken coop needs to be cleaned.  My dogs have smelled “wet” for longer than I care to remember…because everything outside has been wet for over a week.  Hay nets need to be filled tomorrow. I cannot keep the floor clean of paw prints.  I have piles of grading to work through.  And, just for shits and giggles, one of my horses injured himself on Friday, resulting in a day off of work waiting on the emergency vet.

I’d say things are crazy right now, but in my experience, this is sort of just how life works.  You get behind; you catch up.  You get your shit together; something unexpected happens.  I guess that means that crazy is normal…or normal is crazy?  Or there is no such thing as normal at all?

I’ve read books about having “balance” in life.  It’s such a fantastic idea: this juggling of priorities and responsibilities so that you’re always on top of things.  The ringmaster of your life.

But has anyone else noticed that the idea of “balance” usually comes hand-in-hand with an undue number of circus metaphors?  Anyone else think that’s maybe because it’s an idea that is playing at a fantasy?

My life feels like a circus sometimes, but not a well-managed, three ring circus… a shady roadside circus.  The animals aren’t behaving; the fire is getting a little too close to the tent, and the clowns don’t all fit in the car…and who the fuck let all of those creepy clowns in here anyway? 

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Sometimes though, my life feels maybe a bit more like a petting zoo.  The creatures are running things.  I am getting low on hay, and I need to clean the stalls.  And someone left a gate open.  Actually, that one isn’t a so much a metaphor…

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In the past week, three of my friends have told me about their respective circuses.  Their lack of balance.  Their feelings of guilt and shame for not being the perfect ringmaster.  They worry that they aren’t “enough”: enough parent, enough partner, enough employee, enough friend.  One felt guilty that her time at the gym took time away from her kids.  One felt like time for herself took excessive time from her relationship.  One felt that her time at work wasn’t enough, that she should be spending time outside of office hours attending work functions.  One of my friends even voiced concern that she “didn’t bake enough and that she probably should.”

I listened to each of them, and I said all of the right, true things.  “You can’t take care of anyone or anything else if you don’t take care of yourself.”  “You are being too hard on yourself.”  “You are doing great.”   These are things I have to tell myself ALL THE TIME, so I’m getting good at saying them.  One day, I might even get good at hearing them.

Over the last few years, I’ve added a mantra to my ever-lengthening list of mantras.  I’m beginning to think that it might be the secret to life: “The stalls won’t always be clean…and that’s ok.”

Maybe you have stalls (in which case it works on two levels) or maybe you don’t.  But what I mean is this: things will never be perfect, and the list of things to do will never be completely done.  Try as you might, you’re never going to get all of your figurative (or literal) shit cleaned up.  And things are probably going to be fine anyway.

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I should have graded papers on Sunday, but I went to spend time with a friend and her kids instead.  We made cookie bars.  I let her eight year old crack the egg for the batter.  We sat on the floor eating warm cookie bars with chocolate ice cream while that same eight year old serenaded us with “Fight Song,” and her mama and I sipped limoncello-spiked, mango-lemonade.   I wasted time…balance and priorities and juggling be damned.  I laughed.  I smiled.  I gave myself a break and accepted that some papers were going ungraded for now…oh, and I didn’t clean my stalls up, either.

It was good enough.  I was good enough.

Embrace the circus, honey.  We all have one, and those clowns aren’t listening to anyone.

Living the Dream

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I forgot to step tall over the hot wire.

I felt my rubber muck boot catch the bottom wire of the horse fence.  My ankle caught the strand that I had strung there this summer.  My knees hit the snow.  The five gallon bucket I had been filling at the spigot fell forward out of my hands and spilled into the stark, white snow, soaking my hands through my gloves, emptying in a mockery of the small task I was trying to accomplish.

I was wearing too many layers to injure myself in the fall: my legs were insulated against their snowy landing spot by two pairs of pants and a pair of heavy duty coveralls.  Rather, the -15 degree windchill made the possibility of frostbite through my wet gloves my most pressing concern.  I stood up slowly–the only possible way to stand in coveralls–and, swearing at the wind or the weather or my own clumsiness, began to refill the bucket.  Ponies need water.  It is my job to make sure they have it, whether the process for getting it is pleasant or not.

The spigot in my horse barn has managed to remain unfrozen this year, thanks entirely to my father’s handiwork, wrapping it in heat tape and insulating it against the cold, so I haven’t spent this year’s Polar Vortex hand filling a 100 gallon trough, carrying buckets one by one up my icy lane.  Rather, when the arctic temps settled in over the midwest a few weeks ago, I found myself battling frozen auto waterers on one side of my barn, frozen furnace lines in my barn furnace (the one that heats my feed room and tack room), and frozen pipes in those same rooms.  I’ve been filling water buckets by hand, heating my rooms with space heaters, and hoping for the best.  Winter will move on eventually; it always does.  And when it does I will have a good idea of what will need to be fixed before the cold strikes again.  And something else will break next winter from completely out of left field, because that’s how farms work.

I remember when I was fourteen, walking up the barn lane in the summer, and thinking to myself that “I want a place like this someday.”  I remember that moment clearly, though there was nothing significant about it, walking the same steps on the same path that I took everyday to begin work in the morning, but something about it stuck.

I constantly hear people remark that I’m “living the dream.”  And, honestly, being here, in this place, with these animals is the culmination of years of dreaming.  For so many, myself included, land is “the dream,” horses are “the dream,” eggs from your own hens are “the dream.”

I think about that sometimes when I’m fighting sub-zero temperatures wearing soaked through gloves.  I think about it when the manure in the barn stalls is frozen to the ground and can’t be cleaned up.  I think about it when my hose lines freeze, or an animal gets injured, or a llama chokes and has to be driven to the University Livestock Hospital two hours away on the night that I’m supposed to be at my Nana’s birthday party.

This is just another reality of “the dream.”

And yet, I could take a thousand photographs and never capture the way that the snow glitters out here in the light of the full moon.  I could try to describe the way sunset paints the sky from pink to orange, then to blue and purple fading black, in every post I write from here on out and never do it justice.  I don’t know how to express the calm that settles over the horses when I feed them their evening hay, or the glee that overtakes the alpacas when they decide it’s time to play, prancing from one hill in their front pasture to the next and then erupting into bucks and a mad run.

That’s probably more what people have in mind when they decide that I’m “living the dream” out here.

The beauty.  The calm.

Dreams aren’t usually what we think they’ll be, and I think some people get discouraged when they realize that their dreams aren’t all sunshine and roses.  But, having known any number of people, myself included, who are truly living their dreams, I’m not sure this world ever offers a lifelong dream without difficulty.  It always comes at a cost.

It’s usually worth it anyway.

Right now, even though I’ve just about had enough of the cold and all the problems that accompany it, even though the cost is high, it’s worth it.

With that in mind, I’m going to go slip on boots and wander out into the snow.  I will feed horses and llamas and ponies.  I will brave the cold, again, and try not to slip on the ice.  And I will remember that winter will end soon enough, and that anything worth doing is worth doing even when it’s really, really hard.

After all, I’m still living the dream.

On Dating.

Swipe Right.

“So, what are you looking for?”

It’s a straightforward enough question really, and one that comes up a lot when you foray into the world of online dating, but it’s one that I sometimes have a hard time answering.

What am I looking for…?

The truth is, it’s hard to know what you’re looking for in a place that you’ve found yourself by accident.

I’m 31, divorced, and dating again for the first time in 7 years.   Honestly, I wasn’t very good at it 7 years ago, and my “time off” hasn’t done me any favors.  It’s real weird.

Swipe Left.

I met my now-ex-husband on match.com when I was 23 years old.  We joked that I bought him online for thirty dollars.  (In retrospect, I might have been better off putting that money towards a new pair of jeans; I have several well made jeans that have generously outlived that relationship.)

At 23, online dating was a lot like a buffet; you might not like everything that’s available, but you’re bound to find something that agrees with you.  At 31, it’s more like a gas station deli counter: pick the least objectionable option, get out quick, and hope to God it doesn’t make you sick.

Swipe Right.

Actually, that’s not entirely fair.  I’ve met some great guys so far.  Just not Mr. Right.  Not even Mr. Right Now.  There was the fantastic guy I connected to emotionally but had no physical chemistry with.  (Proof that the universe is deeply unfair.)  The great guy and amazing kisser that I had physical chemistry with to spare but struggled to emotionally connect to.  (Proof that the universe is still deeply unfair.)  The guy I was sort of into who wasn’t into me.  And then I the guy I was really, really into who wasn’t into cats. (To be precise…he was deathly allergic to cats, and I have six.)

Swipe Left.

But, as a rule, I’m not gaining faith in the male gender through this experience.  There’s the guy I really liked who ghosted and stood me up.  (That’s a real kick to the ego.)  The guy who was 15 years older than me with whom I had very little in common that wouldn’t let up on all the reasons “age doesn’t matter” until I eventually blocked him.  The smattering of inappropriate solicitations. (People are brazen online, hiding behind relative anonymity.)

I don’t have the sort of life where I “get out and meet new people”–my life is really just an endless loop of work, farm, and my yoga studio–so  I find myself mindlessly flipping through dating profiles, swiping left and right with relative abandon.  It feels like window shopping.  It’s light and breezy and easy.

(“He’s cute.”  Swipe Right.  “He’s funny.”  Swipe Right.  “Oh, face tattoo…” To the Left.)

The dating though, the part where you actually meet?  That’s more like the time you spend in the changing room when you pull something off the rack.  Suddenly you aren’t the size you thought you were, you don’t actually look good in orange, and the outfit you pulled from the sales floor looks way the hell better on the mannequin.  Drinks.  Dinner.  Coffee.  But you persist, hoping for that perfect fit.  The dress that makes you feel like royalty.  The jeans that make your ass look amazing.  The guy you actually click with, the one who makes you smile and gives you butterflies.  The dress, the jeans, the guy: those things are out there somewhere; it’s sorting through all the rest of it that can get exhausting.

I’m not good at dating really…and I never have been.  I’m an introvert.  I don’t usually enjoy playing 20 questions with random strangers.  I’m not optimistic that a meaningful relationship is going to be built on swiping right.

Here’s the thing though…While I’m, admittedly, not good at dating, I’m really good at relationships.  I’m good at giving little meaningful gifts, remembering someone’s coffee order and bringing it to them at work, making brownies for birthdays, cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, holding hands while road tripping to an out of the way restaurant we both want to try.  The problem is that the the whole relationship part is dependent on getting through the dating mess.  (You can’t take home the outfit until you make it out of the dressing room.)

Swipe Left.  Swipe Left.  Oh!  Cute dog.  Swipe Right.

I really thought I was done with all the dating nonsense, but it turns out I was really, deeply wrong. (Guys, I am learning that I am so good at being wrong.)

So, I find myself bumbling through Bumble at 31, wondering if I accidentally swiped left on my soul mate because of bad lighting.

What am I looking for…

I still don’t really know the answer to that question, but I think it might be something like a really great fitting pair of jeans.  I’ll know it when I find it.

Sitting in the Sacred

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

It’s still warm enough for crickets to chirp their song at the end of the day, but only just.  Our fall colors are still flirting with the green of summer.  Fall happens slowly here.  You almost miss it, sandwiched between our Midwestern summers and winters which compete every year to be fiercer than the other.  Fall is quiet.  Unlike the famous colors out east, our colors don’t come all at once.   We entertain shades of gold and green and red in the same moment.  Oranges like pumpkins.  Scarlet like the lips of emboldened women.  Yellow leaves reminiscent of gold jewelry worn to be noticed and envied.  All of this beside the slow trees that cling to their chlorophyll, still green into November.  Even lovelier for their slow and steady, almost cautious, pace.

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I walked out to the barn this evening wearing a sweatshirt and jeans; it’s not cold enough to break out my winter things yet, but if I know anything about time and seasons and the Midwest and ranch work, I know that those coats and hats and gloves aren’t as far away as they seem right now.  Acorns crunched under each step; in no time their crunch will be replaced by the crunch of snow underfoot.

The barn was quiet.  Most of the animals, especially the llamas, were out in their fields enjoying the green grass.  I walked down the barn aisle attending to those who required a special dinner.  The quiet of my evening interrupted by the occasional impatient whinny or llama hum.

Twice a day, everyday, this is my world.  Llamas.  Alpacas.  Horses.  Chickens.  Silly little ponies.  A random pet turkey hen who doesn’t really like me all that much.  It comes complete with all the dust, and manure, and work I can manage…plus just enough more to remind me that the work will never, ever actually be done.  It is overwhelming sometimes.  Exhausting sometimes.  Heartbreaking sometimes.

It is also beautiful in ways I still struggle to put to words.

I walked down the lane farther and dislodged a hay bale from my stack.  Hooves pounded the ground, and my horses called to me as I carried a bale out into the field.    Some trotted.  A few cantered.  One sprung into a mad gallop that ended in bucks of pure joy.  I watched and listened.  I will never tire of the sound of hoof beats.  Watching my horses gallop in for dinner will never get old.

But I don’t always watch or listen.

I try to practice mindfulness in my life: taking the time to center myself to my breath, notice what is going on around me, and live in the moment.

I have to be honest, I’m really bad at it most of the time.

I’m a very cerebral person in general, and it’s hard for me to let go of what’s going on in my head long enough to notice what’s going on in front of me.  When I finally take a moment to slow down and notice the world around me, I am most often struck by what I miss out on everyday.

Tonight could have passed that way, like so many others.  But for some reason, instead of quickly tossing hay and leaving my horses to their dinner, I walked around checking in with each of them.  I kissed Phoenix on the nose.  I scratched Morana’s neck.  I said hello to each horse.  Then, impulsively when he came up to me and seemed to offer it, I climbed on Jiminy Cricket’s back.

It’s been a while since I climbed on a horse bareback.

I had no intention of asking him for anything.  This wasn’t going to be a battle of wills; I wasn’t a rider, just a passenger.  He had complete say over where we went.  How fast we traveled.  He wasn’t bothered, settling in quietly to eat hay with his pet monkey on his back.

I sat there while the sun set.  The oak leaves ruffled gently in the breeze and the light glittered between them.  The sunlight played in a way that made me understand why the ancients believed in faeries.

Jiminy felt warm and powerful and gentle beneath me.  He took a deep breath in response to my own, and we settled into this moment in the fall, the light like golden glitter between the leaves, and the sweet smell of hay.

I slid off his back as the light I had been watching began to dim.  The horses watched me leave, and I walked back to the house hearing the crunch of acorns.

And I thought about Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the poet who once wrote that “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God.”  Most of the time, we miss it, but sometimes?  Sometimes we see the fire.  We recognize the holy.  We sit in the sacred, and we remember, though we will probably soon forget again, that the sacred is always within reach. 

 

 

The Anniversary that Wasn’t: Why I Wish I had just “Thrown Away” my Marriage.

I was scrolling through the calendar on my phone, looking for an appointment I couldn’t remember making, when I scrolled across a repeating reminder.

“Anniversary”


It made my stomach drop to be honest, and I flashed to memories of a lacy white dress, yellow roses on white tablecloths, and promises that were supposed to last forever.

“For better or for worse.”

“For richer or for poorer.”

“Forsaking all others…”

“Anniversary…” plugged in to my phone because I’ve always had a hell of a time with dates, even important ones, and I need reminders.    And there it was, my reminder, set to repeat into infinity, because when you get married you promise each other forever, and you can’t imagine a world where you won’t need a reminder for that date.

I deleted the reminder–I wouldn’t need it anymore–but the word hung like a shadow for the rest of the day.  It would have been seven years this year, and, even though I’ve honestly gotten to the place where I feel pretty damn lucky that the marriage ended, the reminder still tagged along with me for the rest of the day.

It’s funny to me that “divorced” is considered a “relationship status,” as though it were somehow different from single.  Once you are divorced, you are never again just “single”…you are divorced.  Which, as far as I can tell, mostly just means single but with a shit ton of emotional baggage.  I feel like I’m wearing a sticker across my forehead when I say it.  “I’m Divorced” equals “My marriage failed…Try and guess who’s fault it is.”  A scarlet letter.

I remember sitting watching television as a kid, listening to the adults in the next room discuss someone’s divorce, lamenting that “people just throw away their marriages these days.”  Divorce, in the subculture I was raised in, is a character failing.  By that reasoning, I guess I write this with a failed character.

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There’s a meme that pops up on Facebook every few months of an elderly couple who, when asked how they “managed to stay together for so long” respond that “It’s simple really.  We are from a time where if something is broken, we fix it; Not throw it away.”

I have to admit, the first time I saw that meme, I thought it was really cute.

“Yes.” I thought, a touch too self-righteously, “People need to stick together and fix things.”

I was raised in 90s evangelical purity culture, with its message that if you don’t sleep around before marriage, God will bless you with a happy, fulfilling relationship.  In youth groups and Bible studies, marriage was the finish line instead of the starting gate.  Women were framed in relation to their husbands. I was raised to believe that marriage was meant to last forever.  I was raised to believe that wedding vows are sacred.  I was raised to believe that, once you’re married to someone, you will always be married in the eyes of God, no matter what the courts may say.

Later, when I found myself living in what could only be described as a toxic relationship, a toxic marriage complete with abandonment and adultery, those ideas that I no longer entirely subscribe to clanged around in my head like marbles in a tin can, noisy and pointless and undeniable. I thought endlessly on those words: “throw away” and “fix.” I spent two and a half years of my life trying to repair a relationship that was fucked up beyond repair.  I tried to repair it despite what my friends said.  I tried to repair it despite how I was treated.  I tried to repair it despite the warning of a marriage therapist who told both of us that it was obvious to her that he was not invested in repairing the relationship.

I hung on.  I kept trying.

Sometimes, I honestly wish I had just “thrown away my marriage”  In retrospect, it would have been completely reasonable to throw myself into a life boat when the ship started sinking, to get the hell away from something that would only prove to nearly drown me.

I thought back on those vows and wondered how they really worked.  Do they become void once broken?  And, if so, in what order?  Am I off the hook on “for better or for worse” because he broke “in sickness and in health” and “forsaking all others,” or was this just the “for worse” before we swung back around to “for better?”

Ending my marriage was the most difficult decision of my life, but, in the end, it was my decision.  I filed the paperwork.  I made the call.  I “threw away” my marriage.  I dissolved my marriage to save myself.

And when I did it, I didn’t think about the common things that the Bible has to say about marriage.  I mean, I did, but I also oddly thought about Abraham and Issac.

There is a passage in Genesis that recounts a story about Abraham.  He is called upon by God to sacrifice his beloved son on an alter.  In the end, with Issac waiting on the alter for his father to plunge a knife into his chest, God stays Abraham’s hand and provides a ram instead.

Biblical scholars tend to agree that this story serves to point out the differentiation between Judaism and the other religions of the time that encouraged human sacrifice.

I don’t know why exactly, but I thought about this story a lot in relationship to my marriage.  In the end, I couldn’t make myself believe that the same God who spared Issac would want me to sacrifice my own life on the alter of marriage, bound and shackled to something that was eating away at my soul.  I couldn’t help but believe that when we become so committed to an institution, like marriage, that we abandon the well-being of the people who belong to it, that is when we lose ourselves and our humanity.

This path has felt nearly impossible at times.  Every step I took away from the man I still loved felt like a self-inflicted torture.  But that didn’t make it less right.

Here’s one of the things I have learned: almost no one just “throws away” a marriage.  No one dissolves the most important relationship in their life on a whim.  Some things just can’t be fixed.  Sometimes it’s better for your soul to let go.  (I probably should have let go a lot sooner, if I’m being honest.)  And sometimes the most important thing you will ever do is decide it’s time to walk away.

 

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

I almost deleted this from my inbox, instead of reading it, because this morning my inbox was just one more thing I had to deal with. But the title piqued my interest, and I’m really glad I opened the link. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

happy face “Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or…

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The Marriage Paradox

I adore this blog, and this post in particular was pretty amazing.

Must Be This Tall To Ride

dead rose by wolfman570 (Image/wolfman570 – Flickr) They had a chance encounter on 5th Avenue in New York City.

The boy and the girl in the movie I was watching.

They were two old friends who crushed on one another growing up together in Texas. He was an aspiring novelist attending the University of Texas. She was going to Yale, after abandoning her childhood dreams of being a creative artist.

They reconnected over dinner and drinks, catching up from the years apart.

He was a dreamer. And his hope and optimism was contagious and inspiring. His belief in her and encouragement to chase her dreams moved her. It made her feel good. She was in love.

In a later scene, we see the young woman having dinner with her mother, where she reveals her plans to leave Yale, return to Texas to attend the University of Texas, and marry this boy from back…

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Trees and Sunsets

I am the sort of person who has favorite trees.  I’ve always found trees to be a little bit magical, a piece of the past that roots into the future.  When I was a little girl, one of my favorite trees was the willow tree in our backyard (the namesake of our lane). Now, though I have many trees that I love, one of my absolute favorites is my backyard western pine.

Very few types of evergreen trees are actually native to Illinois.  If you see them here, it’s usually because they were planted, or perhaps their parent tree was planted.  They grow tall and lovely, and can rival the height of the native oaks and maples, but they don’t reach their true potential they way they would if they had rooted in their native soil.

And yet, they are the monoliths of the ridge line.  Apparently the result of depression era planting, there are rows upon rows of western pines scattered across the farm.  They edge the farm road, they frame the back fields, and one particularly lovely and tall evergreen commands the back yard.  I am the sort of person who has favorite trees, and this particular pine is one of my absolute favorite trees on the property.

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I sat in my sun room on Friday, reflecting on a particularly difficult day, starring out at the backyard and my stalwart pine tree in its field of oaks and maples.  It swayed gently in the wind as the sky faded from blue to pink behind it.

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The sunset was extraordinary; I watched the colors slip from one to the next like the tracks on a well loved CD, so quiet in their transition that before you realize one song has ended, you’re listening to a new one.  I feel like God gave us sunsets to remind us that endings can be beautiful.

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And I think maybe God gave us trees to remind us of our own brevity.  Those trees in the backyard have watched over this place for decades.  To their lifetime, I am a footnote. But not even the trees are permanent.  Everything is both stable and changing, all the time, all around us.

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I’m not sure why, but those ideas comforted me that evening.  Endings can be beautiful.  Nothing lasts forever.

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Pink to orange.  Orange to purple.  Purple back to blue before the night settled in.  The moon like an iridescent white pearl against the black, crushed-velvet sky.  By the time the night settled in, I felt much better. Because sometimes, endings can be beautiful. 

And, regardless, the sun is going to rise over my favorite pinetree in the morning.