Friday, August 26, 2016

Empty Nest Syndrome - A beginner's guide

Let's review my to-do list for the past 5 months:

  • Oldest child gets engaged
  • Put favorite house up for sale
  • Find somewhere other than car to live
  • Youngest child graduates
  • Move
  • Plan wedding
  • Help youngest get ready for college
  • Have wedding
  • Send youngest to school
  • Be really tired
Now that I have checked off everything on my list I am faced with the fact that my little nest is empty. Well, not completely empty. It turns out that if your children's angelic faces plead to adopt new little kittens when they are 5 and 7 (or was it 6 and 8?) you will still have said kittens 13 years later when the children leave. So my nest is empty-ish. And, while I have worked full-time since my girls were small I have ALWAYS thought of myself, first and foremost, as mom. So losing the full-time parenting gig, while anticipated, is a bit shocking.

My first thought, as I'm sure would be yours, was now I can finally star in my own reality TV series, "The Crazy Cat-Lady Chronicles." I have asked an underutilized local band, "Iron Donut" to come up with my theme song. I'm hoping for something that's a mix of The White Stripes, Foo Fighters, and Tom Jones. I really feel like Tom deserves some kind of comeback. It will be amazing. (No pressure Iron Donut.) I'm currently lacking a few of the essentials for a reality TV show, such as scandalous friends and ridiculous amounts of time devoted to whining and inventing drama. I have asked a few friends to spice things up a bit, but so far they've let me down. (Cathy? Lisa? Come on ladies!) Also, it seems like some kind of vacation episode is popular, but can't imagine that a trip to Utah county would feel exotic on the screen.

So, while that's getting underway I decided to do a little research into coping with this whole empty-nest thing. (And let's all agree to not talk about dating.) Here are the recommendations:

1. Spend more time on your hobbies. This one has potential except I seem to be missing mine. Several months ago I asked Lisa, part of my single mom power duo, what her hobbies were with the hope that I could copy them. She just sat there staring at me, speechless. Three days later she came up with one. Three days. While it took her three days I'm still at a loss and it's been months. Zilch. Granted, I was taking care of that pesky list above, but you would think I would have had something come to mind. I have contemplated designing a line of leisure wear for cats, but find that in my heart of hearts I am a dog person and find no inspiration in the feline lifestyle. Don't worry, this won't impact my reality will merely add to the drama. "Crazy cat lady is actually a dog person!" 

2. Reignite the flame with your partner. While the thought of a romantic dinner over tuna tartar with the cats is intriguing, I know it will inevitably end with one of them distracting me by shredding the furniture while the other pukes in my shoe. After all, this isn't my first night alone with the cats. Now I know someone is wanting to bring up dating, but if you remember I mentioned we weren't going to talk about that. (see above) If you think dating is a possibility for me you need to refresh your please read this Michelle dating= painful awkwardness

3. Volunteer. This one I have thought quite a lot about and plan to pursue because I am actually pretty good at caring for others, but apparently most places looking for volunteers need ones that don't work 50 hours a week. I would like to be needed from 6 - 9 pm, but not every night because I have my reality show to consider and also Netflix needs me to check in. Oh and nature. I like to be in it and at some point I should try and enjoy house cleaning. (The downside to children being gone is I have to admit I'm the one messing up the house.) Other than these issues volunteering has real promise.

4. Go back to school. I have also thought about this one. The only problem seems to be when I think about it my gut response is "No! I don't wanna!" While my two pointless bachelor's degrees are lovely, I find no excitement at the idea of getting a master's degree. I still think degrees should function like the game Monopoly. You can turn in two bachelor's and a hundred dollars and get a master's degree without having to actually do any more studying. (PARENTING MOMENT: Girls - school is great! You should keep going! You will get better jobs! Studying is fun! This is the best decision you've ever made!)

5. Seek therapy. I realize it's clear that I probably should be evaluated on a regular basis by the mental health profession I find that I'm not in a very "therapy" kind of mood. Maybe after a few tapings of "The Crazy Cat Lady Chronicles" I'll change my mind. It would make for a fabulous episode. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Yes, Miss K, You Can Adult

It's the day after Nicole's wedding. I finally put on pants - at 4:00 pm, which is a good indicator of my productivity level today. Something in my head is clearly trying to claw its way out, in spite of the vast quantities of ibuprofen I've given the creature as a peace offering. The only thing I seem capable of is sitting and not thinking about planning a wedding reception. I do, however, keep thinking about Miss K. In less than a week she heads off to college and her first "grown-up" apartment. She is not excited, but IS slightly overwhelmed and worried about how she'll do academically, emotionally, and financially. A guide to adulting seemed to be in order and since no one else is here I'll have to be the one to attempt it. It will be similar to the Berenstein's Bears approach at life. You know how the Dad always did things the least effective way and in so doing ended up with very smart bear cubs? - But without all the rhyming...because, hello, I didn't even get my pants on until 4:00 pm...I have no energy for rhyming.

Kristen's Guide to Adulting 

1. Put on your pants before 4 pm. (Just kidding...well, not kidding because you really should get dressed before 4:00pm)


1. Get to know the thermostat. When you are cold or hot you really only need to adjust it one to two degrees. That's it. I promise. Turning it to 80 when you are cold does not make the furnace work faster. It doesn't make the furnace think, "I've really got to be quick warming up the house...she's turned it to 80, people!" It will just put you in a sleepy zoned-out, completely useless state, when really you just wanted just wanted to feel comfortable, plus having a talking furnace would be a little creepy. The same goes for when you're hot. Turning it down to 60 will only give you a really expensive bill and an angry landlord because you will break the air conditioner. This is also true with how you're feeling. When you get overwhelmed, anxious, depressed - stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Pause. Say a prayer and reach out to someone who loves you (pick me! pick me!) to vent to AND listen to so you can get re-centered and move forward. Going to extremes while experiencing intense emotions will only lead to different and more complicated problems. Most often just a minor adjustment in action or thought is needed to feel at peace.

2. Don't mistake salt for sugar. He may look like something sweet and be anything but. Spend time with people based on how you feel when you're with them. Do they bring out the absolute wonderful that you are, or do they make you doubt yourself and your instincts? Learn whether those are butterflies you're feeling or if it's bad sushi. The best guys will be the ones that you feel comfortable with from the start. This applies to girls, as well. 

3. Clean up the kitchen after you've used it. There's no great allegory here, it's just courteous and a really nice thing for you and all of your roommates. Plus cleaning out that tupperware you left sitting in a bag in the kitchen for several days was really nasty and should not be repeated. The cats even left the room and they clean themselves with their tongues...that should tell you something. Plus, when things are clean it's just easier to think and feel at peace. This applies to bedrooms and bathrooms, as well.

4. Hug the cashier at 7-11. Let me explain...It wasn't just because she had the Coke Zero, although that is a very endearing quality. Wednesday, when I went to re-caffeinate at 7-11 and was paying for my drink, I asked the cashier how her day was going and she started to tear up. I had this strong urge to give her a hug, but leaping over the counter would probably have frightened her, plus I was wearing a dress. No one needs to see that. So I tried to say a few things, but it felt inadequate. Some of my biggest regrets have come from not following through on a kind thought. I have tried, especially over the past 5 - 10 years, to never suppress a kind word when I have one. Expensive gifts are not often an option but kindness always is. I promise this is the absolute best tip for being an adult I can give you. It will change those around you for the better and it will keep your heart open to other people. It is the instant cure for self-pity and despair. Being able to share love and kindness is something you are already skilled at - don't ever stop practicing that talent. 

5. Eat your veggies first. When you were little and I served you some less than favorable vegetable  you would look at me like I had just placed a serving of cockroaches on your plate. Instead of attempting to smash them with your shoe, however, you would polish them off first and eat the "good stuff" after. This thinly veiled and annoying allegory is just what you think it is. Study first, then play. It will be hard to stick to this, but it will give you the academic confidence you want. You may even find that some classes are fun to study for. Talk to your professors. Get to know them so they can get to know you. As you make that personal connection it will help you feel more committed to the workload in the class. At times you'll be tempted to feel frustrated at having to go to class, study AND work - but just remember that you will end college with a degree AND work experience that will make you more attractive to future employers.

6. Feel the fear. Now pack it up in a little box and repeatedly run over the box with your car. Repeat if there are multiple boxes. Too often I make decisions in my life based on insecurity and fear. I cloud my thinking with what-ifs and lose sight of my passions to the point of not knowing if I even have any passions at all. You have gifts and talents in a combination that no one else has. Pursue your interests and trust that Heavenly Father is guiding you in the process. You have never been one that is drawn to the typical or expected - don't change that now. I trust you completely in choosing the path right for you. Don't feel pressure from that trust - instead use the strength that it comes with. And if you have to try out a few paths - DO IT! It will only enhance your journey when you settle on "the one."

Adulting has it's bad days and good days - but, believe it or not there are more good than bad. After all today my only goal was putting on pants. Check! Good day! I love you 70 x 7 and more!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Final talk in the EMC 4th Ward

I may have been a little over-ambitious about speaking on the same weekend as moving, so I hope the spirit will fill in where I haven’t had the time to prepare as much as I would like to. My goal today is to keep it together. So fingers crossed.

I have lived in this neighborhood for 17 years, 8 months and 5 days. All of us together we have raised two amazing girls whose talents, intelligence and compassion surpass my hopes and dreams for them. How deeply grateful I am for how you have all influenced them. I am a big believer in the concept of it taking a village to raise a child and know that the Lord has prompted many of you over the years to teach, inspire and comfort them. You have done the same for me – and I was definitely the more challenging child to raise.

Having the opportunity to look back on this chapter of my life I realize that what I will miss the most is not my house, but the comfort of being nestled into this ward. Knowing that I had a friend on every street, knowing I’m not alone.

When Bishop Sean asked me to speak on “small things proceedeth that which is great” it seemed like the perfect theme to pay homage to all of you. Your small acts of service through my 17 years, 8 months and 5 days have strengthened my testimony and have been a perfect example of the gospel at work.

When I think about small things proceeding that which is great what I really think of is the process of change and learning to trust in the Lord’s plan.

Change for many of us can have negative connotations. Change, even when positive, can still be stressful and hard to maintain. Several months ago I shared one of my favorite sections of the book of Mormon with the sisters in relief society. About a year ago I was preparing for a young women’s lesson and studying Ether chapters 1 and 2. Heavenly Father had told the brother of Jared that he had a great land prepared for him. To gather his flocks, family, friends and the Lord would lead him to a land “which is choice above all the lands of the earth.” The brother of Jared followed the Lord’s command and gathered all that was asked of him and he and his people traveled for some time until they came to the sea. And there they stopped to rest….for four years. Until one day the Lord came to the brother of Jared and chastened him for three hours because he had stopped calling on the Lord. He was comfortable there on the beach. The Lord reminded him that he had greater things in store for him. Journeying had its challenges and I’m sure the brother of Jared must have felt, at times, weary. Staying put certainly must have seemed easier. But he repented and continued his journey staying focused on the Lord’s plan for him.

The Lord has great things in store for each of us as well, but change can feel daunting and frightening. Or perhaps you feel alone in the process, or turning your heart fully to the Lord seems too difficult. Maybe you have strayed from His plan for you and the journey back simply doesn’t seem like something you’re capable of. I promise you there is always a way and the best way to make permanent change has to do with having the courage to let all of the people in this chapel into your life.

I work at the University of Utah editing medical manuscripts and managing resident physicians in Radiation Oncology. Almost every month I have the opportunity to teach all of the other managers of resident physicians across the campus. Recently, I gave a lecture on making positive changes in your department. In preparing for this lecture I read a book by Alan Deutschman called “Change or Die.” In the book he studies groups of people and corporations that have made dramatic, seemingly impossible changes and studied how it was possible for them to make permanent changes. Of the three keys to successful change, the first is the most important. “Relate”

“If you face a situation that a reasonable person would consider hopeless, you need the influence of seemingly unreasonable people to restore your hope.” I absolutely love this quote. What he’s talking about is the idea of surrounding yourself with people who not only believe that you are capable of difficult changes, but that can even sell you on the idea when you are discouraged. In each step of the process those “unreasonable people” are there to cheer you on, share ideas, work alongside you, or just listen to the frustrations of the journey. Through their support you will find yourself in a place that you previously didn’t believe was possible.

As I read this I couldn’t help but think of the way the Lord has designed the church to create this same kind of system. Through visiting teachers, home teachers, and callings we are given a built in support system that can help us stay on or return to the plan that the Lord has for each of us.  In a time when more and more of our struggles are internal battles of the mind. When the pressure for worldly perfection smothers the deep need for being loved for our true selves we must trust and rely on the Lord’s gospel and the brothers and sisters we are surrounded by within the church.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 12 we are taught “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…There should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” This is the expectation the Lord has of us. To become one with each other.

Staying in this mindset of being one takes great humility and courage. We must be willing to both offer love and support and to receive it. Needing the help of our brothers and sisters within our ward family is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of trust that the Lord has put us in this ward at this time for a reason. It is often much easier to be the one supporting people than being willing to accept the support of others. Set aside your insecurities and allow yourself to be fully immersed in the body of this ward and church. When I have allowed others to bless me with their service my love for them and for the Lord has deepened.

Perhaps you aren’t comfortable with letting people see your struggles, or perhaps it’s difficult to let people into your heart. The Lord constantly gives us small opportunities to increase our courage to let others in. Work alongside the ward members. Sign up for service projects or accept a ward calling. In so doing you will find that you will not only increase in the number of friends within the ward but you will have an increase in the confidence that those within these walls will love you for your true self.

I have been able to make great changes in my life based on small teachings I have learned from this ward family. When I had first moved in to the ward Renee Craigo made the comment that “we are raising adults not children.” This one small comment helped shape my parenting in to one that focused on teaching independence and maturity. Linda Thompson made a comment one time while we were visiting teaching that “the one that needs a hug the most is the one that seems to least deserve it.” Which helped me to set aside frustrations and always have a hug for everyone. Jerie and David Holley taught me that I can be accepted and cared for with all of my odd little quirks and my all too frequent personal disasters. Diana and Sean Esplin showed me that everything should be done in love.

There simply isn’t the time to talk about all that I have learned from each of you. The point is, all of you unreasonable people, through small acts of love and service have helped me stay focused on the Lord’s great plan. When I have felt angry or bitter, discouraged or weary, you have helped me turn back to Him. I know the Lord loves me by letting me be a part of this ward family. I will hold that love with me forever.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Change is coming

A couple of months ago, after reading a post by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), I decided to create a dream board. I was excited about having all of my long term goals and hopes in one place. Something to help me stay focused on where I wanted to my life to go. This is what it looks like today:

You can see its all coming together...I have pictured quite a future for myself.

The problem is, I've been totally stuck. I loved the idea of creating the board, but when it came to having specific ideas to put on the board I drew a blank. When I was younger it was easy.  I knew I wanted to get my college degree, find a good husband, and be a mom. Once I had kids I would be a stay-at-home mom, volunteer at the school and create a nice home. Years later, when my kids were grown, I imagined teaching at a preschool and volunteering, maybe finding time to write. I did not anticipate working full time when my girls were small, running a business, and then ending up divorced. Since then it's a daily battle to keep my head above water. There just isn't a lot of time to ponder dreams and goals. My day starts at 4:30 AM and I collapse around 10:00 PM. But, like it or not, I have to find the time because change is coming...yet again. In one year Kristen will be graduating from high school, I'll be selling the home I love, figuring out where to live and what kind of long term career path to create for myself. And, I'll admit it, I'm scared. The easy thing to do is to NOT think about it. Except, of course, at 3:00 AM when my eyes flip open and it's all that fills my head.

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a lesson for the young women I teach at church. It had to do with prayer and building a stronger relationship with the Lord. In my reference materials I was supposed to read a few chapters in Ether (Book of Mormon). Now if you have read the Book of Mormon you may be familiar with the story of Jared and his brother and their journey to a new land. You may find that you always focus on the end, when the brother of Jared, under direction from Heavenly Father, builds barges for his family and friends to sail across the sea; but what caught my attention was the middle part of the story. You see, Jared, his brother, their family and friends are commanded by the Lord to leave their village. They pack up their belongings, gather seeds, honeybees, and their animals and begin to travel across the country following the divine directions they are being given. After a long journey they arrive at a beautiful beach where no one has been before. They must have been exhausted. I can't imagine traveling with all of those animals, the kids, the do you travel with bees? Anyway, they come to this beautiful beach and they settle in. They settle in for 4 long years. I don't blame them. The beach is pretty much my favorite place. It must have been so peaceful. There was probably lots of food, nice areas for the animals...I bet the bees even stuck around. It became easy and comfortable.  After 4 years, however, God had enough. He came to the brother of Jared and chastised him for not turning to Him for guidance any more. God had already told him about the ultimate destination. A land of great promise and blessings, one far greater than even this beautiful beach. After 3 hours, the brother of Jared repented and began again to seek direction from above.

Now my life these past 4 years has not been easy, but I have found comfort in the routine. Enough comfort that sometimes I forget who is really in charge and also forget that I should always be progressing, not just enduring. While there is comfort in this routine, there is also more room for fear and doubt to creep in when I am mindlessly going through each day.

Although the upcoming changes scare me, I have a renewed faith that the Lord is guiding my path. I just need to stay focused on Him. (And I do have a year to prepare.) There is more in store for me than this current beach. Things that may bring me more peace, fulfillment, and happiness. So now I have at least one thing on my dream board.

I'll figure out the rest as I move myself off the beach. ;)

Friday, January 30, 2015

Social Anxiety Induced Mini-Stroke part 2

My social comfort at parties began at a young age.

Kristen and I were out one day and found some calling cards you could give out that said, "Please stop talking." Which got me thinking that what my cousin and I need are calling cards that say:
Please START talking.
 (At some point I'll join in and in a lame attempt at wittiness, say something awkward and disjointed.)
Too long? How about:
Talk. Now. Please?

Yes, I really am this tall. No I did not play basketball or volleyball.
Okay, that one is for my cousin. She is fabulously tall and gorgeous. The two of us going out is like Igor and Giselle Bundchen having a night on the town. I sort of feel like I should be clutching to the hem of her dress while I drag one leg behind me. The fact that she is tall seems to both attract and baffle men. She's quite beautiful, so men come up and talk to her, but can't seem to talk about anything other than her height. Like she has any control of her height. It would be like coming up to someone and discussing the fact that they have arms or legs or a face...or elbows. Let me explain how the conversations usually go...but I'll replace any height reference with the word "elbows."
Man: really have elbows.
Cousin: Yes. (Her patience for these conversations is spectacular.)
Man: With those elbows you must play basketball!
Cousin: Nope.
Man: Volleyball? (Clearly thinking..."she has elbows, how could she not at least play volleyball?!")
Cousin: Nope, no volleyball either.
Me: Hey look at me! Look at me! I'm down here!!
OR....there are the men that like to argue with her about her height...again substituting elbows.
Man: You must have more than two elbows...what do you have like three elbows?
Cousin: No...just two.
Man: No, really...You say you only have two but that can't be right.
Me: Here, take this says, "Please stop talking."
I do admit that I'm impressed with their courage to come up and talk to her. I like watching the whole thing unfold. First, they casually walk by from a distance and check her out, and decide whether or not they want to come in for a closer look...which they do, because she's rather amazing. Then the fun really begins. She is busy chatting with me and trying to keep herself from randomly tossing her beverage my way, so she doesn't usually notice the series of ever shrinking laps they take in an effort to get closer to her. There is always the slow circling sharks, before they come in for the killer conversation. Perhaps my (least) favorite was the man who circled in right up to me and said, "Hey, know any tall blondes?" Which made me realize those "Please stop talking" cards really do have  place in society. Now I could have responded with something witty, but, thanks to my inability to be clever, flirtatious or charming in front of single men, even ones like him, I believe I said something like, "Her?" Your welcome, dear cousin, your welcome.
When people say or do odd things it often catches me so off guard I temporarily freeze or say something unexpected. One day at work a man in the cafeteria ran his fingers through my hair and said something slightly creepy. So what did I do? Just stood there, dumbfounded, thinking, "He is touching my hair! Why is his hand in my hair?" I never actually said anything to him - like, GET YOUR HAND OUT OF MY HAIR! I just stood there. When I was in 6th grade a flasher came up to me and said, "Want some?" to which I replied, "No, thank you." and ran away. On the plus side, all of my mother's efforts to train polite children really came shining through in a least I had the sense to run away.
Anyway, I felt like I somehow should have been able to protect her from "know any tall blondes" guy, instead of just mumbling and gesturing in her direction. Especially since he went on to discuss why she couldn't be the height she claimed to be since he thought he was so incredibly tall. (Which he wasn't.) At one point it was all I could do to not laugh out loud as I listened to him explain why she was taller than she claimed. He was quite the debater. Shockingly, this did not help him in the way of getting any kind of contact information for he went back to circling the room.
And so, cousin and I have learned that this is, perhaps, not the venue in which we are going to be making any new friends. Fortunately, I have my genius calling card idea that can fill my non-existent spare time in which I fantasize about having a social life.
On a more serious note, the beautiful thing about my "life is full of miracles" realization (go back two posts), is that I'm not worried about my current inability to have any kind of dating life. Before my paradigm shift I felt as though things wouldn't ever improve...I just had to endure. But now I know that Heavenly Father wants good things for me and the hopes I have will happen. (Some things I thought weren't possible have all ready started to change!) Cousin and I will continue to try different ways to meet people and will eventually find one that fits who we are and the way we think. But, in the meantime, I will keep you apprised of our adventures.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Social Anxiety Induced Mini-Stroke

I spelled my last name wrong today. It is not a complicated name....I've been spelling it correctly for some time now. I haven't had to sound it out or anything. But today, while purchasing some music for my piano students, I misspelled my name. The conversation went something like this:

Me (to the clerk): I'm a piano teacher. (I don't go around telling people this, it just happens to get me a discount at the music store.)

Clerk: What's your last name?

Me: Denney.

Clerk: Is that D-E-N-N-I?

Me: No...I-E.

Kristen: Ummmm....Mom....(she looked both afraid, embarrassed, and amused.)

Me: Oh my gosh! That's not how you spell my's E-Y! I'm so's D-E-N-N-E-Y.

Clerk: You are clearly unstable. (Okay she didn't actually say this but I could see it in her eyes...I have gotten this look before.) She gave me a polite laugh and continued the transaction, while giving me furtive glances...checking for any twitching or sudden movements on my part.

I finished my purchase, but had to show ID, probably to verify my identity and to provide a record of the mental patient in the store.

Here is my excuse for spelling my name wrong: I am single. I know that doesn't make sense at first, but come with me on a journey of my thought process and you'll understand. (Wear a helmet.)

I was distracted during the transaction because I was thinking about an LDS church singles' activity my cousin and I are going to attend tomorrow. Thinking about it had me so flustered I either mini-stroked, as all good middle-aged Americans do, or my synapses misfired...or stopped firing completely.

In the past I have written about awkward dates, usually making the man seem like the odd one, but I am completely inept at human interaction with single males. (I'm not sure why I had to specify human...but sometimes it's questionable. Shoot...I'm doing it again.) People that know me don't believe this at first, mainly because a single man in his forties is not usually around when they interact with me. (They are an elusive species.) After all, I am completely comfortable speaking in front of large groups. I enjoy telling stories and can talk to pretty much anyone...unless I discover they are single (and male) and in their forties. I then lose control of my limbs and have the conversational abilities of Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Still don't believe me? Allow me to share an example. I was on the elliptical machine at the gym, attempting to chat with a cute guy next to me and I fell off the machine. Yep. Fell off. It has handles and I still fell off. There I was working out, proud of myself for not saying anything stupid when suddenly I realized, "Hey, I'm tipping over." This is the graceful kind of flirting I can put out into the world.

So, anticipating the upcoming social activity, I mini-stroked and temporarily forgot how to spell my own name.

Fortunately, my cousin is equally skilled in her interactions. At one of our previous "singles' activities" she got so flustered she forgot she was holding a cup of water in her hand and ended up throwing it at me. We are quite the unstoppable team. Fortunately, most men never actually discover our awkwardness since we never have the courage to talk to anyone. We tend to stand somewhere on the outskirts of the room and discuss what we would say if we actually peeled ourselves away from the wall. I asked my soon to be 20 year old how to start a conversation with someone at one of these events. She recommended introducing myself, "Hi, I'm Michelle." But I now realize that is too challenging of an opener for me. So, stay tuned, and I promise to let you know how it goes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My Life is Full of Miracles

Thanksgiving morning I woke up early to help Kristen get her harp to the church. Each year a devotional, with speakers and an orchestra of local musicians, takes place at our local church. The past two Thanksgivings Kristen has been a part of the orchestra. After dropping her off and heading to the gym I arrived at the church only to discover I would have to sit way in the back. I was surrounded by many empty chairs. Part way into the devotional a 92 year old man came in and sat next to me. He had one of those fabulous crinkly smiles that make wrinkles seem worthwhile. Throughout the program he kept chatting and joking with me. When it was time for the congregation to sing it was clear that he was a singer, as he knew every tenor part perfectly.

As the program came to a close he began to share stories of his life with me. He told me that he had been a music teacher and enjoyed composing his own songs. He said one year he found out he was going to be transferred to a new school and was very disappointed to discover the school he would be teaching at. The music room there was in disrepair and he didn't feel like he bonded well with the students, nor was he having the kind of impact he had hoped for. But he did his best and made sure he taught them not only the concepts of music, but his own compositions as well.

Decades later there was a knock on his door. One of his neighbors had an invitation for him. A group of people had been looking for his home. They knew the area in which he lived, but not which house. They went from door to door asking for him, when this particular neighbor said she knew him and would make sure he received the invitation. His former students from the aforementioned school decided to have a reunion. He had had such a powerful impact on each of them, they wanted to all get together with him and let him know how much he meant to them. He couldn't believe it. They spent the day together and he became teary eyed as he told me about all of them singing the Christmas song he had composed. Every winter they each sang that song and had taught it to their own little ones. What a powerful influence he was in the lives of his students.

He told me that he and his daughter had typed up the words to his song and a poem he had written about his testimony and had them nicely framed. He asked if I would come with him to his car, that he wanted to give me one of each. I followed him to his car to discover that he did not have any copies with him. He asked if I would follow him to his home so he could give them to me.

I told him I would. I had a few Thanksgiving preparations to make and needed to go to the store, but I felt like I should go with him. I called Kristen on my way there and asked her to bring my wallet by his house, figuring I could combine my errand with visiting his home.

His home was humble, and every inch of floor space was filled with framed artwork. His wife had been a talented artist. He began showing me through his home, proudly gushing over each piece of art. She was incredibly talented. "She had more creativity in her little finger than I have in my whole body!" He told me. She had passed away 11 years earlier and I could tell not a moment had passed without him missing her.

Soon Kristen arrived and joined in the fun of looking over each piece of art. He told us what a wonderful life he has had. He said, "I wish people noticed all of the miracles that happen everyday. When I look back at my life I see that it is full of miracles." After quite a bit of time had passed I told him I had to go. He gave me two custom framed pieces - one with the lyrics of his song, the other with his testimony. As I left his home I thought, "What is wrong with me? I should be feeling something more than what I am feeling. I know there is a reason that I have spent the last 90 minutes with this man."

But I felt almost nothing. I wasn't annoyed or irritated. It was clear to me that he wanted someone to talk with, and I was glad I could be that person...but I realized I felt rather numb. I brushed the feelings aside and went on with the day. You see, I had been carefully constructing a little wall around my heart. The idea was to just close off the area involved with finding someone to love who would love me in return. I had decided that I didn't need to have a significant other...a partner. I could find happiness just being on my own. My awkwardness in dating and social situations has been rather astounding, considering I'm normally an outgoing person and my chances of finding someone were not good! After all, people in their unfiltered, unsolicited, misguided way had spent a lot of time telling me why the odds of finding someone was nearly impossible. For some reason they must have thought I was unaware. Some would say that men my age are only looking for a trophy wife, and I didn't fit that bill. Some would tell me about the horror stories of second marriages and how I'm better off. Other people, about a dozen men and women over the past 4 years, knowing I was divorced, have come to me to share the unhappiness they are experiencing in their own marriages. It seemed as if all around me were examples of how cruel people could be to each other. And so, I decided to close off that empty spot in my heart.

The past several years have been extraordinarily stressful, from emotional challenges my children face because of the divorce and from the financial stress I seem to meet at every turn. I feel as though I am the appliance and home grim reaper. I come near something and it breaks down. One thing after another has needed replacing or repairing to the point that I work two jobs to simply stay in my home. A particular drain on resources has been the Loser Cruiser. Our not so loving moniker for the minivan Kristen drives.

A few weeks ago, the Loser Cruiser began hemorrhaging various life-sustaining fluids. We took it in to the shop and awaited the prognosis. Soon the call came....$750. How on earth was I going to afford $750?! I would have to figure it out. Kristen simply had to have a car to not only move the harp, but to get to work. I told them to go ahead and make the repairs. My credit card company loved our co-dependent relationship...I would just be doing my part to keep VISA in business. Later the next day I still hadn't heard back from the shop, and Kristen would be needing to move the harp for another performance. I was growing concerned. On our way to leave the house to run errands I had a small fight with the ottoman and broke my toe. Exhausted, and in pain, I left the house. Kristen and I decided to stop by the mechanics to find out what was happening with the van. I hobbled in and spoke with the mechanic. He told me that as they began working on the engine they discovered a myriad of other problems...which would add hundreds of dollars on to the bill. Much to the discomfort of the mechanic and my pride, I burst in to tears. I started mumbling and crying, "How am I going to do this? I just broke my toe? I just need a break!" and all sorts of other things that didn't make any sense to this cute man just trying to do his job. I pulled myself together, apologized and hobbled back to my car.

That night my Mom called. She could tell I was upset and I told her the whole scenario. She knows that the past year in particular has been full of stress. I told her I felt like I was losing my hope. She told me that I can't lose hope, I must always keep hoping! God has a plan for me and someday all of the struggles will be worthwhile. She said she and my Dad would love to help with the car, that everything would work out. I got off the phone feeling that my parents should not have to take care of their grown daughter. I was grateful, but feeling guilty that they had to share in my burden. In spite of those feeling a small crack was beginning to grow in that wall around my heart.

I realized I desperately had to find help to move Kristen's harp the next morning. I did something I don't usually do...I plastered a plea onto facebook asking for help. Within minutes friends were offering to help drive her or to even loan us their cars. I felt so blessed. Harp transportation was set.

The next day the shop called. The van was ready. I took a deep breath and asked for the final bill. The man told me it would be $370. He said the owner wanted to do what he could to help me out. The poor man had to hear me burst in to tears again. (Did I mention I was at the grocery store?) I couldn't believe how lucky I was. I hurried to get the groceries home and to go pick up the van. As I walked in to the house I saw the framed pictures the man had given me two weeks earlier and all of a sudden I understood that my life was full of miracles. Not just because of this moment, but all of the ways Heavenly Father has shown me his love through a wonderful family and loving friends. You can't build a wall around one section of your heart without cutting off the ability to see God's hand in your life.

The van has since broken down again, but the power of that weekend has not lessened. I am grateful each day that I can see the miracles and tender mercies with which the Lord continually blesses me.