I’ve Had Four Marriages

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Last Saturday was our 23rd anniversary. While it may seem that this fact and the title of this post are incongruous, they aren’t really. If you are lucky, like I have been, these marriages will all be with the same person. This is a concept I first heard attributed to the marriage therapist, Esther Perel. While I’m not sure I’m all in with her entire philosophy, this idea does ring true to me. It is inevitable that people will change, and carrying a marriage through these changes in one (relative) piece is a trick that many people fail to achieve and for good reason. Even when you do, I think it’s a feat, an effort, a gift of ebbing and flowing that is never entirely finished.

My first marriage was immature – full of wild ups and downs but infused with hope and naivety. My third marriage was incredibly painful – it felt out of control, and I was uncertain whether we would walk out together. I often felt lost in the valleys of it without perspective or support that could reach me. I remember sitting in our home that was almost completed, with my red master bedroom wall reflecting off the white cabinets that were waiting to be installed and wondering with all sincerity if I would ever sleep a night in this room or if it would all fly apart before we got to that point. We were mired in hurt and trauma that was eating us alive. I deeply missed my second marriage, with its years of peace, predictability and easiness.

To be honest, I still do, even though I know the victory that my current and fourth marriage is and has been. It isn’t as easy, but it is grown up. I am a woman in this relationship – an adult that makes adult decisions in a way that makes a concerted effort to respect those around me. However, it’s also new – we’re newlyweds in this place, and there are things that are still up in the air, not negotiated, unknown. It is disconcerting when I remember how easy it was 10, 15 years ago. But, while I remember that and feel nostalgic, I couldn’t go back there, not even if I tried. I’m not that woman anymore. That woman was naive, compartmentalized and not entirely honest with herself let alone her husband. It was soft there and so safe, but I couldn’t stay and grow. Had I known what I was walking into to get from there to here, I would have put my head in the sand and answered, “No, thank you!”

I can’t say because, blessedly, that is not how life works, and you don’t get a heads up or a preview of what is coming. While this fourth marriage isn’t what either of us expected and certainly not what we signed up for, I like to think that it is what we need. Things are not as peaceful here as that “happy, easy marriage,” but my soul is quiet, confident, *at peace* for the first time in all our years together. I know who lives in this place, most especially myself, but even my husband is a more transparent and understandable entity. He naturally prefers predictability and tradition and sameness, but that is not what lives in the house we dwell in together, and he stretches and grows and loves more because of this fact. I know I challenge him – I always have – but it comes in more profound ways at this point in our lives, in a way that requires the deep love cultivated over time to make palatable. Our immature beginning couldn’t have supported this.

I remember a moment when my youngest was a baby, and it was very hard. I saw an older couple walking down the road holding hands, and I wanted that, so very badly. Today I am able to find perspective in that moment because I realize that you see what you look at and, often, that’s what you lack. The truth was that I have had stability and security in all four phases of my marriage that I’m sure many people saw and longed for. I value those things but I don’t really notice them to be remarkable because, well, for me, they aren’t.

Perspective and insight are incredible gifts, but they are never, never free. We have been through a lot. But, we are still here, together, in the same space, after 23 years and four distinct stages of our marriage. I feel humbled to have lived with and learned from this man and our marriage. And, that, in itself, is worth celebrating. Here’s to many, many more!

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Taking the Good With the Bad

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In an almost serendipitous fashion, life has a way of being a study of contrasts. You can be deep in an experience of heaviness, feeling the weight of the world upon you, suffocating and life-sucking, only to be plucked back up into joy and life and love. These moments are particularly sweet when marked against the bitter.

I’m no stranger to divorce. My parents’, firstly, with all its implications and the way it nudged my life and changed it forever. My parents were amiable and decent, but it’s impossible to take things that were bound together apart without damage. I’ve watched members of my family walk through it and heard them express the wish that it could be different, despite the fact that I’ve seen the reasons why, and they were valid. There usually is a good reason, though it sometimes takes time to see where the responsibility lies from the outside. Sometimes you are never quite sure. Sometimes it’s mutual selfishness. I wish it wasn’t this way, and that people were always as good as they should be and that children were always put first. But, it’s not, and it’s painful to watch, even from a distance.

Walking from this experience made the good news we received a few days ago particularly sweet and poignant. We have two beloved family members that intimately know the pain of betrayal that leads to divorce and have walked it under some of the most extreme circumstances I’ve ever witnessed with grace and dignity, not to mention a depth of character that is rare indeed. I got the most amazing text letting me know that their friendship and mutual support had become something more, and they were engaged. They are both exactly what the other has been missing and, despite what I expect will continue to be complicated, I have no doubt that they will build something lasting and beautiful. This news was very much akin to sunlight breaking over a very cloudy sky to me.

I think it’s easy to see events like this, especially in such a dramatic fashion, without realizing that they are poignant moments frozen in time that were actually built from the everyday, mundane moments of life. I’ve lived moments like this. We all have. Sometimes, I’ve succumbed to less-than-admirable motives, and people I love have suffered. Mostly, though, my marriage has grown into the opposite, with longevity and love the result of two partners that have chosen to look beyond ourselves (at least I like to think so.) The truth is probably a slow realization of the former that gave us both the fortitude to choose the harder but better way. While people rarely weigh the thousands of tiny actions that make up life, the fact is that these are the make-or-break things that happen to us, as normal as they appear. And, marriage has a way of making it impossible to ignore when you haven’t lain it all on the table.

A few years ago – five, probably – we were in the darkest part of our marriage. There was so much hurt and disappointment and blame, and neither of us were doing well at managing it with kindness and love, really. I came across a Ted Talk that sunk deep into my soul and shaped how I began to look at relationship. I’ve taught classes on the concepts of the bridge between the worlds and the relational space since and continue to recommend this talk it to couples I know.

I sincerely hope that all my readers are in a good place in their lives, but having lived it myself and seen others go through it as well, I’m not that naive. Either way, the 20 minutes it will take to watch this are well worth the time. I hope your week has not been cloudy, but for those that know the feeling all too well, maybe this can be your own sunshine breaking over the gloom. “The adventure of life is not about discovering new landscapes. The adventure of life is seeing the old ones with new eyes.” Choose love. I’ve found it to be so worth the price.

 

I Hope I Live Like I Am Dying

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I just could not get my thoughts together today. I have so much on my mind, and I was struggling to do it justice. I had almost a whole post written this morning, and it flat refused to coalesce. It’s still sitting there. I spent a lot of time this week really diving into relationships and exploring in my head what they mean to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve thought on this topic, but I was really chewing on what I want it to look like when I pass away. I know. That’s maybe morbid, especially considering the fact that I’m just settling into midlife at 41. But, you know, midlife crisis and all that.

I have a couple different groups of good friends that I spend a good amount of time with socially. I had two different girl’s nights close together last summer, and my 11-year-old asked who I was going out with. When I answered, “My friends,” his reply was, “Which ones? You have a ton.” I sat in that space for a minute just feeling so much gratitude for that statement. This hasn’t always been the case, but my life over the last 10 or so years has developed such a richness in this area.

This week was a good one for this to pop up. My husband spent some time helping take care of the belongings of a man from church that passed away and really had very few connections. He’s virtually a stranger to my very friendly husband, and it really struck him how sad it would be to leave this world without a full life in your wake. I spent last weekend away with some girlfriends, had a play date today with another friend and her girls and spent numerous hours connecting with a high school friend (really, more of a brother) around his writing. It isn’t necessarily common for me to engage so much in such a short amount of time, but, man, it was so good! These people and many more like them deeply enrich my life. I feel blessed beyond measure that they choose to share their journeys with me. They are all so different, and we have different things in common, but that fact is really one of the things that makes it all so meaningful to me.

So, when I die, what do I hope? I hope, first and foremost, that my kids will come together in love without drama or hard feelings or hatred. I know that can be such a hard one for families, and I hope to have raised my kids to be kind, loving and forgiving people that overlook small slights in favor of the bigger picture. I hope that they recognize how hard their father and I have worked to launch them well and carry the tools we gave them into their own successful and flourishing families. I hope they learn by example what we have fought so hard for.

I hope that I am widely missed. I’m not under the illusion that every person who crosses my path will be awestruck and heartbroken, but I hope that my character shines through and that the majority of people who met me remember me as a good person who had integrity, kindness and love.

I hope that my friends grieve me deeply. (I’m just assuming that my husband will go first. He’s 5 years older, and women live longer.) I hope that I am there for them when they need me and they know that I tried to show up as my best for the relationships that meant the most to me. I hope that I hold the confidences they trust me with as a sacred honor and never betray that. I can be careless and selfish and imperfect, but I hope that my actions reflect the fact that my love for them was stronger than that, and I truly tried to give them as much as they brought me.

I hope that even my acquaintances remember me as generous – someone who would take some time for you if I could and offer a skill or a hand or an answered question for something I had knowledge of. I hope they see me as impeccably honest.

I’m not all these things today, I’m most sure. But, I sincerely want the world, even if it’s just the small part I travel in, to feel it as a loss when I’m no longer here. I want my life to be rich and full and meaningful and to leave a hole where I once stood because I didn’t just breathe, I LIVED. Out loud. Fully. Completely. Deeply. Without apology. But, with love. Above all, with love. This is what I want to be when I grow up, and luckily, I have a good 40 more years to get there. It might be just enough time, I think. I hope.

An Ode to My Daughter

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Tomorrow is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is turning 20 which just blows me away. If you would have asked me as a young mom to guess which child would be the most difficult based on how they were as babies, she would have gotten number one billing. For the first two weeks of her life, she kind of just couldn’t decide if she wanted to be here. Once her breathing sorted itself out, she spent the next year of her life as the most colicky and sad little baby. I remember one particular morning we woke up and she refused to nurse. She was still very young – 2 to 3 months old? – so this was very concerning. She would just cry and arch her back and cry some more. I finally called my husband to come home, and we put her in the car and drove around until she was drowsy enough to forget to be mad and just eat.

My middle son was born when my daughter was 8 years old. I’m not sure what the trigger was with his birth, but she developed severe and acute anxiety right after he was born. Things that had normally been happy things in her life, like piano lessons, became battlegrounds as I tried to convince her that nothing horrible was going to happen. Some things I had to make her do, sometimes kicking and screaming and peeling her out of the car. But, I didn’t force her to participate in anything optional that she didn’t want to. The anxiety improved gradually over time as I both pushed and accommodated. She was well into her teens before she would sleep over to a friend’s house, however. While she is still a naturally cautious person that likes routine and predictability, you would never know that she struggled so much with this as a child.

I’m a pretty traditional mom. I haven’t spent too much time at all when raising my children worrying about whether they like me or whether we’re “friends.” I’ve just tried to parent them responsibly and raise them to be good and decent people. As my oldest ones have morphed into adults, however, I’ve found that the time, effort and headaches I’ve poured into them have naturally transitioned into a mutual like for who they are, and I think they feel the same about me. (I’m an unbelievably pleasant person when I don’t have to be in charge of you, apparently.) Outside of having grandchildren (which I’m eagerly anticipating!), I think this is the greatest bonus of being a parent – the silver lining that makes every sleepless night oh, so worth it.

I love all my children for their unique place in our family and the world, but it’s probably no secret that I find my girls easier. My oldest daughter is no exception to this statement. She is my right-hand girl. My mini-me. My reliable and responsible sidekick. We have the same taste in clothing and colors and decor. (She is the easiest person to shop for because I literally can just buy her what I would want in her size. Ha ha ha! It’s only the fact that she’s tiny that ensures that my closet is safe from plundering.) She’s smart and pretty and funny and, most importantly, kind. She has become a valuable employee at both offices she works at, quickly filling a gap that was desperately needed and becoming a reliable drafter for her bosses.

So, today is my reminisce day. My day to look back over the years. My day to feel deep and intense gratitude that this girl is mine. I know that she’s right on the cusp of being up and out and flying the nest for good (she technically could already, but she’s willing to put up with me complaining about her not helping enough in exchange for ridiculously cheap rent,) but I’m sure she’ll be back a lot. For now, we’ll buy her a cake and sing to her like we have since she was a baby. Except she’s not. She’s a woman, and I’m so proud of her! Happy Birthday, beautiful girl! I’m so glad I’m your mama!

 

Lifting Your Hands Toward Holiness

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It’s 8:30 at night, and this blog is due for publication in the morning. Some days I have been chewing on something and just need to gather it up and lay it in print. Days like today ebb and flow and nothing is settling. (I’ve been sewing all day and, dangit, I’m proud of what I produced today! Follow me on Instagram @rosazerkle if you want to see my crafty side.) I’m sitting on my bed listening to my husband listen to a Christian band on YouTube. Contemporary Christian music is my husband’s absolute favorite genre, and he listens to it a lot as he works. He found a new band today, and it’s really good. I feel emotion in it.

In many ways, I am religiously homeless. I live in a space right now where I don’t know where I want to settle. When you’ve been chewed up and spit out by what used to feel natural and comfortable and yours, you become very wary of anybody and anything that makes promises that you can’t verify. I’m not someone who can’t take direction or change an opinion, but I’ll be damned if I hand my life over to anyone else’s authority again that isn’t worthy of that faith. I don’t know what this means. It’s equal parts liberating and disconcerting. I had a friend ask me the other day if I was looking to visit a new church. I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right time for that.

One of the challenges of my marriage right now is finding our touch-points and rediscovering what the roots of our relationship are. I think every couple does that, but we’ve become so mindful about it. We had the most beautiful Christmas this year. (I’m not even going to be modest – I killed it!) Months before, I was talking to my teaching partner (she teaches; I take notes.) and mentioned that I had never been to a concert and that my husband loves Christian music. She sent me info on an artist that was going to be playing this year about an hour from us. On Christmas morning, my husband opened a calendar that I had lifted from his own desk and wrapped up with the tickets to see Mercy Me, his second favorite Christian artist. There were tears – something that I haven’t accomplished very many times with very many gifts in our marriage. (I filmed it and begged him to let me put it on Facebook. He was such a good sport!) I felt like a million bucks to give him such an amazing surprise, and I can’t wait to share this experience with him.

For our anniversary this last year, my husband took me to a “hand-raising church.” It was the first church I had ever been to in my entire life that wasn’t some flavor of Mormon. I’m 41 years old. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like home. The live band was new and different, but a little too much to feel like a church to a multi-generational Mormon girl.

What does it mean to “feel like church?” What is that magic ingredient that makes you feel spiritually fed, full of gratitude, with an eye looking toward something greater? I’m softly and quietly watching and waiting for it. But, this music flows around me, and it feels like church to me. Sitting here on my bed with my drowsy 5-year-old boy pulling on my arm and making me type one-handed feels like beauty. Having my 7-year-old daughter sandwiched on the other side breathing holiness in my ear is a voice that I recognize. Feeling my husband inches away from me finding the home church of this band on Google Earth is comfort and peace and love. I hope that God authors all these things. I think He does. After being born and bred in a system that makes it their literal business to provide explanations and answers, one of my most profound realizations has been that the beauty is in this mystery. There is so much that I admit I don’t know, but I find that the more I see that, the less I feel like the knowing is the point at all. Maybe, the gift is in the journey, and I’m right where I need to be after all.

Marking The Year That Changed My Life

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I’ve been mulling this post over for at least a week. How do I address the year that changed everything? What can I say to even begin to do it justice? I probably won’t, but I will try. There are some things in life that are so earth-shattering, so groundbreaking, that you mark them by before the thing and after the thing. You can remember your life before them. You can even look back with fondness, but you can never, never go back to the way it was. This year was that year in my life. 2018 will forever mark that before and after.

I have been called brave for standing up to someone who took advantage of me. I have had women open up and share their own “me too” stories that they do not feel able to expose publicly. I don’t know how I feel about that honor. The truth is that I didn’t feel brave; I felt desperate. My life had become riddled with minefields that were no longer avoidable, and they were tripping in our marriage and home life every time we turned around. I needed out of the almost constant adrenaline fest of fear and insecurity. Going public was the only way I saw, and we took it.

There have been many times over this year that I have wondered if it was worth it. I vividly remember falling apart in the arms of my daughter’s future other-mother-in-law when she came to look at my girl’s foot that was hurting yet again. See, she had chronic sprains, and we were afraid that she had maybe broken it this time. Except, my life had been utter chaos for six months at that point, and things like renewing our insurance had fallen through the cracks. Which meant that I didn’t even have the resources that particular day to take my girl to the doctor. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I did take her, I did sort out the insurance, and she did get the care she needed, but I was so deeply aware in that moment how much of a price we had all paid, and I felt completely and utterly broken by that fact.

I have seven kids, and I truly hope that they either do look up to me or will come to as they become adults. But, having other people see me as representative of something bigger than myself is new, different, humbling. The truth is that my life is largely quite boring. I’m a homebody – a private person, even. I sew. I make soap. I raise my kids. I try to be a good neighbor and friend and not put my foot in my mouth too terribly often. (I don’t always succeed – ask my friends and family.) I write because it’s good therapy and people seem to think I have words worth reading.

I am not a perfect person. I yell at my kids way too often. (The other day my 5-year-old told my 7-year-old that she better do what I asked before I was “tired of this sh*t.” Yep, that happened. Oy. For the record, I don’t speak that way to young children, but I have teen boys and adults that push my buttons like you can only understand if you have them as well. :/ ) I have stolen zippers and laundry soap before (on accident) and been too frazzled to run back in and pay like a proper citizen should. I can be ridiculously self centered and me-focused. We all have a baser nature – inner selves that aren’t pretty or polished. But, I really and truly try to live by a set of values that lead me to be better. All this was true before January 2018, and it will be just as true as the calendar turns again.

Things are different for me. My relationship with religion is different – everything has shifted and adjusted. It’s quieter. There’s less expectations and more uncertainty. It’s more honest. I don’t know how it will look going forward, but I do know that it will be mine. My marriage is different. There’s less fear and insecurity. There’s more mutual respect and room for our own individual expressions.We’ve both had to face the prospect of losing our relationship and found reasons to remain and thrive.

It’s the end of this year. It’s almost officially the after the thing mark. This makes me understandably introspective. How do you process what could arguably be considered the biggest event in your life? What is the debriefing process? I don’t even know. I’ve dealt with it like I think anyone else does: you take it one day at a time and do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. It feels more like learning and growing as the year wraps up and less like coping and surviving. And, I guess that is the most important thing to communicate about this year – I made it THROUGH. I’m not really special – truly. My journey may be different than yours, but I would put good money on the table that you have what it takes to get through hard things, too. It may be that you haven’t walked through a year that changed your life. It may be that you have. Either way, when you find yourself faced with your own giant, take it one day at a time. Do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. You will. You have what it takes to fight the battles put in front of you. I promise.

 

A Heartwarming Holiday Tale

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Today is officially one week until Christmas!! I did a grocery run today and picked up Scotch tape, so I can avoid doing all my wrapping with packing tape. I decided to hold off on the paper and see how far my stash from last year lasts. I may or may not regret that – we’ll see. I’m mostly ready except I still have a few straggler items to sew for a few assorted gift recipients on my list. I’m getting there!

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I hear stories in passing about random acts of kindness that happen around December like people picking up the coffee tab for the people behind them or someone paying for all the layaway orders at a store, but I’ve never experienced it myself. (Where are these magical grocery-paying-for people??!) I was raised in a fairly closed community, and there was a lot of fear around outsiders. My own life experience has effectively deprogrammed that to the point where I think that type of thinking is complete and utter hogwash. Still, you don’t expect strangers to really go out of their way for you. But, they do. They did. So, today, I get to share my own heartwarming holiday story.

My husband was out of town for most of last week. After a quiet, leisurely weekend with our kids, my youngest daughter wheedled him into taking them to the store because we were out of butter (which, in a popcorn-loving family, is akin to an emergency) and they wanted treats. It’s about a 20-minute drive to get to our closest Walmart. Upon arrival, my husband and three youngest kids proceeded to grab the butter and add some other odds and end to their cart – lunch, some mandarins, cheese and crackers, Sunny D and a box of cookies. As they made their way to the checkout, my husband realized that he didn’t have his wallet in the pants he was wearing. He ran to the car for his checkbook, only to have the teller remind him that they couldn’t take the check without ID – the ID that was also, yep, in his wallet. With his cartful of goodies for our kids, he was going to have to walk out empty handed and drive the 20 minutes home to get what he needed or go without. He would have been annoyed, my kids would have been disappointed, and it would have been an all-around bummer for nothing more than an oversight in planning.

But, that’s not what happened at all. Instead, a man behind him saw his conundrum, wished him “Merry Christmas” and handed him a $50 bill to cover the purchases, insisting that my husband take it. Instead of a grouchy, disappointed family, my husband walked in with smiling children, bags of snacks and butter! All because there are good people in the world. While we could have paid for those groceries with a bit of extra time and hassle, somebody saw a problem and stepped in to fix it.

When you watch the news or hear Internet chatter, it pays to remember that things are reported when they are out of the ordinary. It can seem that the world is a mess and that there is no community or kindness left, but I don’t believe that at all. While most good people go about their business quietly and without fanfare, the truth is that most people are good. I truly hope that I can find the opportunity at some point to pay it forward and pass on the Good Samaritan spirit myself.