Tuesday, February 12, 2008

an emotional weekend

I went to my church's women's retreat this past weekend and it was emotionally wrenching. In a good way. The overall theme was about hidden longings. Sometimes in our lives we are in circumstances, marriages, situations that seem to deny our longings and if we're committed to living a Christian life, it can be incredibly frustrating to figure out whether these longings are distractions pulling us away from God and God's will, temptations, or if they have a greater purpose...

The speakers talked about how God has placed these longings within us and that they're a part of who He created us to be. One of the speakers spoke on how her husband's parents always came down to celebrate his birthday and yet her own family was more splintered, and so when her birthday came around, she always felt sad and that no one was really "celebrating her." She'd had an absentee father and when she was really young (around 5), she'd longed for relationship with him. Then one year, he showed up to visit and she thought that was it, and they'd continue their father-daughter relationship from then on out. Then she didn't see him again for many years.... As a result, she learned to push down those longings for a father and to be loved and celebrated so that she wouldn't be disappointed. She got the message not to hope, so as not to be disappointed. But no matter how much we deny those longings they stay buried and don't disappear, and by not acknowledging them we hurt ourselves.

I so related to this because I had to choose between my parents when I was 8 years old. I chose my dad, and he won custody. I left the courtroom that very day with him, and didn't speak to my mom for a long time because my dad didn't have a phone. The judge wouldn't let me go home with her and my stepdad because he worried she would kidnap me (I don't think they would have - in fact I'm sure they wouldn't have - but that is what the judge said in the transcript!). I left the courtroom without any clothes except what I had on me. Because I had to choose between parents and not live with both nearby, I got the message I could not have it all. I had to choose between two things that every kid really needs. As someone once told me, that was a grown-up burden placed on a child that was not in a position to have that level of responsibility and guilt.

In life, we don't always get what we want, and we can learn and grow stronger in the process from loss. But where we have the choice, I strongly believe divorced parents need to do everything in their power to allow their kids to have both in their lives on a daily basis. It's why I refused to have a huge custody battle, and committed to staying in Houston until the kids are out of high school even though I am like a square peg in a round hole in conservative Texas! I am hippie spawn! :) But maybe those around me need to learn that being a "liberal" Christian or a Democrat or a bohemian gypsy wanderer is not so weird. I have a lot of love, and in the end, love is all that matters.

Anyway so after living with dad in the log cabin for a couple years, I went back to live with my mom. Again I had to choose. My dad didn't even have a phone, and letter writing was not his thing. So when I moved back with my mom, I lost my dad. I didn't talk to him hardly ever, but I'd spend every summer with him. These days as a single mom when my birthday or Christmas comes around, I don't get a huge celebration of "me" like people do when they're married. My kids sometimes make a little something but I don't have the "husband" to "help" the kids create a celebration of mom. And though I can put on the face that I don't care and I don't need anybody, it can hurt sometimes. When I joke about it, or even mention it to others, people don't laugh with me about it - I think they look at me like I said I had green antennae growing out of my head! I think they don't know what to say. But I have also learned that when we have longings, we should not play the victim or the poor-poor pitiful me. If I need to feel celebrated, well then I should celebrate! So last birthday I threw myself a party and so many of my friends showed up that I felt truly blessed! If we need to feel celebrated and loved, we love those who are in our lives deeply and truly and they will show up when we need it.

Saturday night at the retreat I can only describe as an intense spiritual battle that I won't give the details of, but I was absolutely heartbroken and prayed and felt bewildered and was going to drive home but I sat in my car and didn't have any idea how to get out of there (it was a remote camp/cabin place in the middle of nowhere). Then this wonderful lady from our church came and prayed with me and I decided to stay but leave at 6am so I could go to church. But on Sunday morning I decided to stay at the retreat and listen to our pastor's wife talk and I'm so glad that I did. Her talk was so moving and emotional and again I related so much! She talked about how she would put on a smile even when she was not happy inside because she'd gotten that message as a child - smile and be happy or you won't be liked. She talked about knowing a lot of people and that everyone liked her but she didn't have many/any close friends. I completely related to that! She talked about how much that smile has cost her. For me, it's not necessarily a smile or happy face, but I create this aura that I am an island, and that I am super independent. I can do it all. I can buy my own house, pay my bills as a self-employed writer, and I don't need anybody. Yet what that cost her - and me - for a long time was that I didn't have any close friends, and now a life partner (and of course I distanced myself from Matt even in the marriage). Since my divorce I have spent much time building the friendships that I'd kept at a distance and so I feel I've mastered some of that, but most of my friends do not live close by me, so that can be tough too. But it's something I recognized and have been working through.

The last part of the retreat that just really made me bawl was when she played this clip from the movie "Shall We Dance," where Richard Gere's character has been in this happy marriage for many years but he just feels sad and he feels this longing he can't explain, so he ends up starting ballroom dancing lessons but he keeps it from his wife. He becomes very good at it and does competitions, etc. His wife thinks he's having an affair, and when she finds out he's dancing she confronts him and doesn't understand why he wouldn't share that with him. He says he was ashamed to want something more, because they had so much. He had these longings and needed to fulfill them to feel fully alive and to fulfill his life's purposes. We all seek love, but finding a life partner is not the only thing that we humans need - and in some ways it can actually distract from doing the purpose God has laid out for each of us.

I so related to this, and started bawling because although I'd seen this movie I never saw it in this way. It was exactly why my marriage fell apart. I had been deeply unhappy - not because of the marriage itself (though at the time I blamed that) but because the internal longings that God placed inside of me were not being met. I felt that I had to choose. I left the marriage to follow my passion of traveling and writing and developing my friendships, but like I've long told people who asked why I got divorced - I don't think I made the right choice by thinking it had to be one or the other. I took a fork in the road, when I could have had the fork and the spoon ;). Of course hindsight is always 20/20. At the time I actually blamed the marriage. I thought he needed to do this that or the other thing to "make me happy" but that is such hogwash! I learned that even though I felt unloved, that was my own emotional baggage from my past, and that truly he loved me more than anyone else ever has - in a deep, true, way. He wasn't perfect to be sure, but who is? He has been there for me. During our separation even I told him I didn't really want to get divorced, that I wasn't sure. He said we need to get on with it and just do it. Sometimes choices are so unclear. The enemy preys on us like a hungry lion. If only I had listened to and followed my voice hesitating, and insisted on waiting and not going through with the divorce... things might be different now.

But life goes on. I am truly happier now, and have healed so many of my hurts of the past. Day by day I will just continue to walk in the light and learn whatever lessons come along, and try to do my best.

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