Where do broken hearts go? WISE project 2017-#tenacioustuesday

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“HEARTWORK

Each day is born with a sunrise
and ends in a sunset, the same way we
open our eyes to see the light, 
and close them to hear the dark.
You have no control over
how your story begins or ends.
But by now, you should know that
all things have an ending.
Every spark returns to darkness.
Every sound returns to silence.
And every flower returns to sleep
with the earth.
The journey of the sun
and moon is predictable.
But yours, 
is your ultimate
ART.” 
― Suzy Kassem

I was lucky to connect with some old friends this week and I recall saying to one of them that I was sad and going through the most horrible thing in my life but I knew that I wanted to live and be happy. I wanted to live my life in color, to love and have passions for things again. I can remember the hope and the freedom I felt just speaking those words out loud to someone I trusted, someone who was so inspiring in their passions for their life and work. In that moment I felt liberated just being able to declare my wants for the future but a couple of days later I woke up feeling none of that hope or freedom. It was buried under a mountain sorrow that I couldn’t shake and it only got worse as the day went on.

I know that grief can be a deceptive journey and to be honest it feels scary when the darkness of it washes over me, it feels like I have lost myself. Sadly, there is no rhyme or reason to grief and I reminded myself of that on Thanksgiving Day when my teenage daughter crawled out of her bedroom and was shocked to find me still lying in bed at 2 pm. She asked me if I was OK and I replied through tears that I was which made her eyes fill with tears and she immediately called me on my lie.

I got up and dressed and assured her that all of us were going to be OK. She followed me to the kitchen telling me about seeing a spider and how terrified she was. She asked me then what my biggest fear was and I told her that my biggest fear was losing myself in sadness, losing my purpose and my belief in love and goodness and not being able to be a role model for my children. My beautiful girl confidently assured me that that wasn’t going to happen and told me that my answer wasn’t fair so I told her about my insane fear of roundabouts which I have unfortunately passed along to her and her sister.

When tragedy strikes in our lives and all our safety nets have fallen down our vulnerability can leave us feeling exposed and afraid. We often forget that no matter what struggles we are facing that our fundamental nature has not and will not change. Our essential nature and purpose is as unfailing as the setting of the sun and that is something we all need to hang unto during the most difficult times in our life.

It can be challenging in the midst of troubled times to keep pulling ourselves up and out of the rubble but I know for me as alarming as it gets, I have a clear sense of self buried under the debris and I do not want to lose me. I have so much life to live, I have passion for things and a desire to put good into the world, and not only is that something that Kirk would not want me to lose touch with, it is something that is just not an option for me. I just keep digging myself out.

I was wondering yesterday what happens to broken hearts and I realized that my heart is hurting, it is feeling so much sadness and hurt but doesn’t that in itself mean it is not really broken. It still feels everything and that feels like a victory.

I see what is going on in the world and I very much want to affect change, I want to heal myself so that I can take all the love I have and put it back into the world. I may be scarred but I am not broken.

I am still tenacious.

Maybe the dark days serve as a reminder that an infinite light exists inside of me and like the sun drifting behind a cloud it never really goes away, even when I cannot see it. We all have access to that bright light that shines inside of us and even on the gloomiest of days, it is still there, quietly lighting our way.

xoxo-michelle1

 

Heart Shaped box -WISE project 2017 -#tenacioustuesday

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At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear. 

I remember very vividly being a young girl and terrified to ride my bike without the training wheels. I remember quite clearly the anxiety that I held in my belly, immobilizing me in fear. Nothing terrible had happened to me in my young life thus far so I am not quite sure where my panic came from. With a great deal of coaxing from my parents and my older brother I learned what was on the other side of my fear. With a little balance and a determined spirit, I finally agreed to forgo the comfort of my training wheels and pedal into a world largely unknown to me at my delicate age. It was a land of choice, liberty and wild abandon where the voices of my parents yelling after me couldn’t be heard over the pounding of my heart. Wrapped up in the excitement of my new independence I forgot how to use the brakes so continued to pedal with all my might with my family running after me. At a very young age I had discovered the marvelous freedom that was on the other side of my fear.

That should have been it, a lesson learned; but as part of the human experience we are creatures of comfort. We seem to spend our lives inside little boxes we have built for ourselves, boxes that keep us warm and safe in our self-made bubbles, free from diversity, change, adventure…and well to be honest not truly free at all.

She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory

I think a lot of my granddaughter Rielly and how at her tender age she is completely fearless. She barely hesitates for a moment before diving into uncharted territory. She has the bruises and scrapes to match her plucky personality; badges of her audacious nature.  Even still, onward and upward she confidently continues; unafraid of the journey, focused only what is on the other side.

The world may change her, with so many people perpetually apprehensive about what could go wrong instead of what could go right, many of us; me included, learn to fear living.

We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain

After I lost my husband to suicide in June the world became a scary place. I always considered myself to be a strong independent woman and never subscribed to idea that I was half of a couple, half of a whole. Yes we were Kirk and Michelle, and being married was a huge part of my identity but totally separate from our love for each other was the fact that we were two whole individuals; we were not a half of anything. We had our own thoughts, ideas and passions and though most of our core values were aligned we shared a bed but not a brain.

However, after that fateful day I felt lost and afraid. A part of me was missing and I felt small and scared. When my tendencies moved towards curling up in my comfy comfort zone, it was Kirk that always reminded me of my courage and fearlessness. It was almost as if I forgot who I was without my constant cheerleader. I felt like I was a half, broken in two and that all the good parts of me had died with him.

It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat

It is a pretty frightening feeling to wake up not knowing who you are anymore and where you fit in the world but somewhere deep inside of me I still felt that I had a purpose and when heartache cast a shadow on that I only had to look at my teenage girls and be reminded that part of their cheer squad was gone as well and I needed to step up my mom game and lead by example. It is difficult to raise fearless and courageous young women when fear has you by the throat.

When I started the W.I.S.E. project, my purpose was to live mindfully and in the present, seeking happiness and creating joyful experiences and cultivating gratitude in the here and now. A lot of that entailed making good decisions for me and investing in my own well-being, knowing that not only was I setting an example for all of my children, but choosing happiness can have a ripple effect in your life.

In the last three months I have had to set intentions everyday. Some days I may decide that my intention is too stay in my jammies and cry but often my intention takes me out of my house, out of my head and into the big bad world of new people and new experiences.

I have been lucky to have had some powerful experiences and to connect with people that I am positive are earth angels, put on my path at the right time to help encourage me and point me in the right direction. The choices that I have made to put my feet on that path were based in hope instead of fear but I admit that sometimes I allow myself to be dragged backwards by fear and I wrap myself in it because it is what I know and when everything in the world feels strange, what you know, even if it is not good for you, can disguise itself as comfortable.

In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away

Last week I went to Church with a friend that is visiting and they had a sign up sheet for a home study group on the movie The Shack. I was drawn to it immediately and I signed up but when I got the email with the details of the group I thought of a million reasons why I should not attend. The Shack is one of the last movies that my husband and I watched together and I recall like it was yesterday him being in tears at the end of the movie and saying how beautiful it was. I had read the book and had talked to him a lot about it. I had a damaged relationship with god that went back to being a sixteen year old girl who lost her Dad to a massive heart attack a week before his fortieth birthday. A lady showed up to the house to talk to us about god and in the midst of my grief I said to her “Are you kidding me? I am sixteen years old, I just lost my Dad, there is no god; and if there is he is not who I thought he was”

I struggled a lot with that over the years and I met a lot of shitty people who did shitty things in the name of religion that only served to drive a larger wedge into that broken relationship. In a moment of confusion and hope I prayed to God when my grandfather was dying of cancer a few short months after my dad passed away. My grandfather’s life was not spared but I did get the answer I was looking for and very slowly, like at the pace of a snail mired in molasses traveling up hill, I started to repair my personal relationship with who I believe god to be. My ideology surrounding god, nature and science has always been and will remain very personal to me. I have learned that people are all too willing to believe what they are told and what they read from their perspective without considering that 20 million people could read the same book or see the same movie and interpret it much differently; and that is OK. That is life, we create our own reality.

I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter

God in Shack is the closest representation to the God that I know and believe in my heart. I hold it in my heart that when my husband watched that movie that he felt the same way. His life experiences had jaded him immensely and most times  he believed that god wasn’t for people like him. I think watching that movie he saw something beautiful and attainable, something that he hadn’t been spoon fed at church and something that though he may have daydreamed about, barely mentioned out loud. He and I talked a lot about God though, I wasn’t afraid to share my interpretations with him and he liked my version of God. I believe there is a little bit of God in all of us, I think that God really is one of us, someone I could have shared a seat with on the bus or served a meal to at the homeless shelter. God may have been someone who smiled at me in the grocery store when they knew that tears were about to spill down my cheeks as I was experiencing the most unimaginable heartache I ever had to endure.

As the day of the group meeting inched closer I had all but decided that I wasn’t going. I know that the book wasn’t popular among a lot of Christian groups because it was not what they were taught and we often fear what we don’t know, preferring to stay in our boxes where it is comfortable. The idea of spending an evening with un-like minded strangers was troubling.

He was more alive than I had seen him in years

Initially I had felt drawn to the group because of the connection to the movie and my experience with Kirk. I had a discussion with a friend of his shortly after his death and found out a lot of interesting things about him that I didn’t know. He studied religion at university and almost became a Pastor. He told me that Kirk had come to him very vividly in a dream after his death and when he said to him “wait, what, you are supposed to be dead.” Kirk replied that he was more alive than he had ever been. His friend likened their conversation to the movie The Shack and said he believed that from his encounter with Kirk that god and heaven in the movie (book) was the closest representation he could think of. I told him about watching that movie with Kirk and how touched he was and about how Kirk had come to me in a dream very vividly saying I am real, you can touch me. He was more alive than I had seen him in years.

I know that Kirk was not without joy in his life. The girls and I and Kirk had some amazing times together and shared a love that not everyone gets to achieve in this lifetime, but I also know that depression and anxiety was a relentless beast that sucked the life out of him. Despite profound sadness I try every single day to find a bit of solace that Kirk is now surrounded in peace and love.

I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong

My trepidation in attending the group was based on the fear that once again I would be forced to sit through a discussion about how my god, the god in my heart is not real and all the reasons why. I wasn’t going to attend if I couldn’t be my authentic self and that would include discussing what drew me to the group in the first place. Instead of focusing on all of the things that could go right, I mentally concerned myself with all of the things that could go wrong.

I arrived a bit early and I was sitting in my truck talking to a friend when the first ladies arrived. I had decided to come as myself in every aspect and was wearing my slash shirt. I committed right then and there to being true to myself in every way; that was really the only way approach the evening.

Things took a turn immediately. I endorse Brene’ Brown’s version of wholehearted living and that means choosing courage over comfort as much as possible. I took a big step by being there but that was just the beginning. If I quietly slumped into a corner in my thoughts I might as well have stayed home in my jammies. I wasn’t there by accident. Something drew me there and to find out what it was I needed to be head up and heart open. Within two minutes of my arrival I told the guests that had arrived why I was there. I told them about losing my husband and about my connection to the Shack. I told them that I was nervous to be there but felt like I was called upon to be there. I was immediately surrounded in love and non-judgement. Women embraced me one by one with tears in their eyes, offering me comfort. Another woman told me how she had lost her husband suddenly, nine years ago to a heart attack. She and I discussed the ongoing shock of it and how grief is an arduous journey. She is a nurse and said she felt she should have been more prepared but it was unthinkable finding her husband dead. The lovely host had been busy with food and snacks but upon realizing what she had missed immediately filled with tears and exchanged hugs. It was all very warm and suddenly I was not among strangers. There were three retired nurses and best friends that came together and one of them took me aside to tell me that she had lost her husband to suicide a year and a half ago. I sensed that she still had a hard time saying the word but as we sat down I kept her talking and she gave me some helpful resources to connect with other survivors. She spoke with me about quickly finding out who your true friends are and how sometimes the people you assume will step up don’t and the people that do can be equally surprising. I related to that well and it was actually supposed to be my blog post for this week. I spoke to the group about the people that I hadn’t known previous to Kirk’s death that emerged in my path as my guides and cheerleaders.

We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen

There was a younger lady that had arrived a couple of minutes late and she was the only one in the group that had not read the book or seen the movie. We all sat throughout the movie in various stages of angst, heartache, knowing, and enlightenment, reaching several times for tissues and relating our own stories and love, life and loss to the story that unfolded on the screen. Only one woman did not seem to appreciate the movie, she thought it was very weird in context to what she believed. I still felt very confident in sharing my experiences, my thoughts and my interpretation without judging or under valuing anyone else.

I am glad that I pushed through fear and stepped outside of my comfort zone to attend the group. At next weeks group we start lessons and group discussions and I am incredibly excited to be touched by the love and the wisdom of those ladies. I believe that every one of us has something to teach and something to learn. None of us was drawn there by accident. I am very much a believer in the work of god, nature and the universe and last night is a perfect example of how when we let go of our fear and bias we can see how well they all work together in our lives.

DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be a religious post, I believe that everyone has a right to subscribe to their own beliefs however I truly believe in the power of goodness, kindness, equality and love and I hope that no matter what the basis of your belief system is, I hope it includes those things as well.

What did you do this week to step out of your comfort zone?

 

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xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

Everybody Hurts-Wise Project 2017- #tenacioustuesday

I had a fire in my belly when I recorded the little rant below and I felt compelled to share it with you. I had one of those moments where you want to wave your finger with attitude and snear “oh no you didn’t!”  

It started out innocently enough, someone stepped into my office and asked me how I was doing and I believe they were genuinely concerned but they were not expecting me to answer that question honestly because apparently feelings are a thing of the past. 

I suppose they were expecting me to plaster a smile on and say I was doing good but I was caught in the midst of a bad moment on a very challenging day. Tears were already beginning to leak out of the corners of my eyes so when I was asked how I was doing I answered truthfully as tears filled my eyes and slowly rolled down my cheeks. 

In what I can only assume was misguided concern, I was told “Don’t cry, don’t cry! You need to be strong!”

I replied that I was strong and that there was nothing wrong with crying.

My visitor persisted to tell me that I couldn’t cry, that I needed to be strong.

I am strong I replied.

I was also offended.

 

 

I didn’t sprain my ankle. Three months ago today I lost my husband, the love of my life and the father of my children to suicide. Caught in the cruel and relentless grip of depression and anxiety his illness became larger than him. Sometimes I cry because the thought of the pain he endured fighting his illness overwhelms me, sometimes I cry because I miss him so damn much it hurts, sometimes I cry for our children and all of  the special days that they will have to celebrate without their dad and sometimes I cry because my day is lonely and empty and the future seems scary. Sometimes I just cry.

Crying does not make me the opposite of strong. Crying makes me a living, breathing, emotional being with real thoughts and feelings. There is no less strength in my tears than in my smile. 

I am strong enough to allow the pain because pain is a part of life. Life is beautiful but it can also be brutal, and it is during the most brutal times in our lives that the most powerful lessons are learned, the biggest changes are imminent and the greatest potential for growth is laid at our feet.

Vulnerability is the best measure of courage, that is the soul of all the work; the willingness to show up and let ourselves be fully seen and known.  ~Brené Brown

I don’t like pain, and I don’t like spending a great deal of my life with smeared eye make-up , but I know that pain has a reason and purpose and as I move through this pain there will be many uncertainties and plenty of tears. The pain will change me, that is my only certainty right now.

How I respond to that change, whether I go through the pain or grow through the pain is entirely up to me.

There is no short cut through the pain I am feeling, the only way around is through and I will not hold my tears or hide my pain for anyone else’s comfort.

As a society we have become so accustomed to hiding our feelings that we have come to believe that “emotionless” is a strength of character. “Head up, stay strong, fake a smile” has become the words to live by and meanwhile we have a whole generation of emotionally sick people, afraid to share their feelings for fear that they may be looked upon as weak; when the strongest and most courageous people in the world are those that are willing to show up and be seen, especially during the greatest struggles of their lives.

I think what the word needs is a big collective cry and then we can rise up and be the people we are meant to be, emotions and all. xoxo-michelle1

 

 

 

 

 

The Warrior-W.I.S.E. Project

braving

As this point of the W.I.S.E. project we are all warriors, brave and experienced fighters, knowing what we want out of life and willing slay whatever dragons it takes to get us through the journey.

Trust is a huge word and it carries a lot of baggage around with it. It is hefty. We put a significant amount of value on the essence of trust. We rely heavily on the word and it’s perceived meaning.

“I trust you. I don’t trust you. I will never trust her again. I would never have a relationship without trust. Trust means everything to me. Why can’t I find someone that I trust?”

The above are all phrases that I have used many times. I have said them and meant them without giving them a significant amount of thought.

The most important part of my meaningful relationships should be trust, including the relationship that I have with myself. By my own admission though, I do have a problem with trust but it is one that I am working hard to overcome.

Brené Brown did a talk on the Anatomy of Trust on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. I was shaking my head and really getting it, finally understanding. There is no meaningful connection between people without trust, and lack of trust and authentic connection can affect all areas of our personal and professional lives.

Brené aptly describes trusting as BRAVING and clearly tells us why in an acronym.

B-Boundaries- we need to establish clear boundaries in our relationships. We have to be clear about what our own boundaries are and respect the boundaries of others as they respect yours.

R-Reliability-We need to do what we say we are going to do and to build trust with people. We expect that they will display this same type of reliability.

A-Accountability- We are not perfect, we all make mistakes in our relationships, the key is to own our mistakes, apologize and make amends. In trusting relationships we expect that same courtesy.

V-Vault- We share a lot in our relationships and some of it we expect to be  held in  confidence, in the “vault” if you will. We want to know that the people we put our trust in acknowledge confidentiality. The Vault has many sides, if we are going to trust someone to share our deepest secrets and thoughts we want to know that we can count on them. When they share the confidence’s of others with us, or we share others confidence’s with them our trust is diminished immediately because we know that they do not respect the vault of others. We all do this or have done this in the past and it is interesting when you understand the reasons why. When we share things that are not ours to share it is a way to forge a connection with others but it is not a true connection. It is an assumed trust. The “vault’ is important. We can all work on this.

I-Integrity-Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy and practicing our values. Brené describes integrity as choosing courage over comfort.

N-Non-Judgement- It is important to know that we can fall apart and struggle and not be judged by the important people in our lives. Brené said we get a certain amount of value from helping others but if we do not allow them to reciprocate than we are not in a trusting relationship. If we think our worth is tied up in needing help, so much so that we expect that our friends should come to us with their struggles, share their pain and ask for help when they need it then why are we sitting alone, crying alone and struggling alone? We fear judgement. If our relationships are important, loving and trusting ones we should be able to seek help when we need it without trepidation because we know we will not be judged.

G-Generosity-Assume the most generous things about my words, my intentions and behaviors and if I screw up make a generous assumption and check in with me. If I miss your birthday or I don’t contact you when something important is going on, generously assume that I love and care about you and check in with me. Don’t ignore my calls or texts and wait to bring it up with me two months later in an argument, confront me right away before animosity builds. It sucks when you are always the one to remember everyone’s birthday and then your birthday comes around and it is just another day. No party, no dinner, no to-do. I think we have to generously assume that we are loved and cared for but not everyone puts the same value on birthdays or cerebrating them after a certain age. Realize that we do things for people out of love but should not do them with the expectation of the same thing in return, not only is that not realistic it puts  a lot of unnecessary pressure on our relationships. If we are offended or feel slighted it is OK to assume the best and confront the people we love and say “Hey it was my birthday and we always do something fun on yours I had hoped that you would have planned something for me.” That can open the door to a generous discussion not a foolish fight.

If we are going to trust others we need to trust ourselves. We need to hold ourselves to the same standards as we hold the people closest to us, braving it out with us. Braving in relationships is braving a connection with others. Self-trust and self love is equally important because we cannot ask people to give us something that we do not feel that we are worth of receiving. If a man was starving to  death but offered me a loaf of bread, instead of thinking he was kind and selfless I would most likely think that there was something wrong with the loaf of bread. I would only have trusted him if he took some of the bread and offered some to me.

I have obviously taken liberties here but most of the above comes straight from Brown’s extensive research. Brené’s BRAVING really helped me to understand trust and how when we break it down we are better able to ask for what we need. It is unfair to tell people that we do not trust them but not be able to tell them why.

If you struggle with trust in your relationships and with yourself like I  do I suggest watching Brené’s talk on the Anatomy of Trust or taking her free course at COURAGEworks.

Be W.I.S.E. friends.

Take on me-W.I.S.E. Project 2016

Photo credit: Louie Schwartzberg
Photo credit: Louie Schwartzberg

Beauty and seduction are nature’s tools for survival because we protect what we love. ~ Louie Schwartzberg

You may have noticed that a lot of my blog titles are also the titles of classic songs. Yes this is on purpose. I love music and usually the title is something that just pops in my head very quickly. Take on me from the Norwegian band Aha is out of the 1985 vault. That is how I feel today, telling the universe to Take me on, because I am happy and nothing that happens today is going to change that.

Often when I write to you I have these A-ha moments and yesterday I said that I was once told that you will be what you think of most of the time and I always wanted to be happy. In seeking out those opportunities to create happiness every moment of every day it changes your entire focus. It doesn’t mean that I am never sad or angry but it means I know what happiness feels like and though I experience sadness  like everyone else I no longer dwell on it. In the dictionary dwelling is described as a place of residence. Do not dwell in a place of sadness and anger. These are places you visit quickly and leave.

Once again this  months W.I.S.E. Principles are WOW, incredible, stimulate and enthusiasm.

I found just the thing today that was expressive and awe-inspiring, it encouraged further interest and activity and I intensely and eagerly enjoyed. Not bad for day two of June.

Nature’s beauty is a gift that cultivates appreciation and gratitude.

~Louie Schwartzberg

I want to share it with you and I am asking you to take ten thoughtful minutes and watch this. It will stimulate your brain, bring beauty to your eyes and calm over your entire being. If it doesn’t you are cold and dead inside and I cannot help you. Not that I can claim to help you anyway, I am not a doctor. As a regular person giving advice to another regular person here is my prescription for joy today. You’re welcome!!

Romeo and “just a minute….” W.I.S.E. Project 2016

Kirk and I

Relationships are hard. I don’t have a PhD but I do have 18 years of experience in the same roller coaster relationship. So trust me, I know things.

We expect a lot from relationships and too often we expect to get more out of a relationship than we put in. The probability of getting credit for more than you have deposited is unlikely. If you put five dollars into the bank you can not withdraw twenty. It is not rocket science. We are all smart people here but admit it, when you got married you expected something a little more Cinderella-ish as opposed to a Hitchcock horror movie where you are constantly fighting for your life. You’ll make it, but not without work and sometimes it is harder than you can ever imagine. Sharing your bed and your bathroom and peeing while your spouse shaves looked a hell of a lot sexier in your head than it does in real life. Nobody told you that you might have to compromise…a lot. Even on stuff like pizza toppings! Nobody told you that you would face more fears and insecurities than you did when you were single. All of the cards we got at our wedding said “have a wonderful life together” They didn’t say that some days your greatest struggles in your relationship and your greatest frustrations would be an opportunity to not lay blame, but to confront yourself. It seems easier to keep a running tally of your spouses shortcomings and invest in the belief that their issues are the only thing standing between you and that fairy tale marriage you once dreamed about but if you allow yourself self awareness you will learn to be more compassionate to yourself, and in turn your spouse. You may not love finding dishes and socks strewn all over the house but it will not break you. You cannot change your spouse, no matter how much you cry, nag, scream or throw things; you will waste so much valuable time trying to change people. If you want change, change yourself!

I am devoted to my husband. I have been with him for almost half of my life. The experiences that we have shared together have been transformative to every aspect of our lives. We started out as these young fools that thought we knew everything there was to know about everything and we couldn’t have been more wrong. As we grew as individuals sometimes we grew apart and sometimes we came together. We didn’t always show each the other the consideration we deserved but somehow we soldiered through to the place we are now and it feels like a good place where my heart is safe and full.

I can’t say why I decided that my husband was the one, why I was willing to put in the hard work and to allow him to slowly chip away at the walls I had built up over the years. I am not even clear if it was a decision at all or if it was beyond my control. I do know that I had no idea what a real adult relationship was supposed to look like and wouldn’t for a very long time. We got married and exchanged rings bounding us together forever and subscribing to the age old notion that two had become one.

The fact that for almost 18 years we have committed to work through problems as they arise (and they keep coming) shows that we truly aspire to achieve full intimacy, the kind that is not corroded by years of stubborn resentment and abundant expectations. I have chosen to evict years of hurt and anger from my brain and live in the here and now. My husband will undoubtedly piss me off again and I will without question drive him to the brink of absolute madness. We will love through it; and move on until the next jackass thing comes up. Ahhh…marriage.

When my children were born there was nothing more miraculous than those experiences. I was overcome with such intense love and emotion for these wondrous little creatures with their perfect fingers and toes, soft bodies and faces that were so animated yet completely void of pretense or fear. I spent endless amounts of time just looking at them, entirely captivated by their very nature to just exist and be happy doing so. It is an incredulous experience to be overcome with a love so pure. I guess it is similar to the way I fell in love with my husband, it wasn’t something that I decided to do, it was unavoidable. I was weakened with this sincere and eager feeling that distracted me day and night. In fact I tried really hard to not fall in love with him, I liked being single and I was pretty determined to not allow the existence of mysterious forces to take that from me. Apparently my defenses were feeble against these enigmatic powers and would continue to be many times over the years when I tried to battle against them. Sometimes love hurts and I admit that over the 18 years of my relationship with my husband I would try several times to struggle against it to no avail. I have loved him through all of the times, even the ones I didn’t like him very much, often neglecting the importance of loving myself.

I would describe most of my relationship with my husband as fiercely passionate, amplified by the fact that my husband worked away for many years and we all know that separation makes the heart grow fonder. My husband is also a Scorpio so he can be ardently intense! However there are also periods of time that we are slaves to the mundane daily tasks of working parents. sometimes marriage is boring, but at a certain point you really come to appreciate knowing what comes next.

Romantic love often thrives on separation because of the fantasies that we create during absence. Unattainable love can be quite thrilling but it can also be impersonal and wrought with bitterness and distress. Though there is an incredible amount of energy in passion, if we do not have the courage to make a real connection, to allow ourselves the abandonment of our mental inhibitions and our selfishness then we will never turn our romantic love into true lasting love.

From the beginning of time there has been darkness at the center of passionate love. In classical myths and literature such as Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights, one possesses their lover completely in death only. Trusting in this type of passion glorifies a lifetime of unhappiness and life is too short to be anything but happy!

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I have been distracted on more than one occasion by the delightful agony of passionate love. We endorse this type of feral romance in books, music and on the big screen everyday. It can be torturous but it makes us feel wildly alive.  Though we use our bodies to connect and relieve loneliness and frustration, believing in the meaningfulness of our rampant romance, we rarely allow ourselves to  be open enough to  dissolve the walls we have built around our heart to protect us from hurt. So when the fantasy starts to fade and problems emerge we are left with the realization that we barely knew the person at all. The truth is we didn’t, we didn’t get to know them and we barely allowed our guard down enough for them to know us. When you look back on failed relationships were you ever willing to be vulnerable enough to allow true love to grow? If you are honest you might be surprised at your answer.

A long term committed relationship takes a certain amount of courage to let down your guard, to love, to forgive and to share your space. As a young woman emerging into adulthood I relied on a deceptive belief that to make someone fall in love with me I had to be everything they wanted. I had to like their music and share the same hobbies and beliefs. Compatibility is based on a lot of things but not on becoming a completely different person to attract another. It is an impossible charade to live up to and very damaging to our spirit to align our thoughts and beliefs with another to a point that we are giving up the beauty of what makes us unique and special.

There are so many things I wish I had known years ago but there is always something to be said for learning the lessons the hard way. The been there, done that, bought the friggin t-shirt approach gets you to the same conclusion eventually. If we have any intention of enriching love and deepening our relationships we really need to begin with ourselves. We are not responsible for our significant other’s happiness, decisions or well-being.  To be in a fully committed and loving relationship we need to relinquish our clingy need for dependency. Relationships thrive when we nurture and support our partner’s without solely relying on them for our contentment and wellness. Chains of love are chains just the same.

I am sure you have all been told on occasion “you cannot love another before you fully love yourself”. You may have even repeated it to a friend when you thought they needed to hear it. How much of what we hear, repeat and even believe do we put to use? I have said that phrase to countless people over the years. I was free with advice that I never seized myself.

When we are in a committed relationship, or a marriage, we do not become one. We share a common space of mutual responsibility, sharing and joy but we still preserve our individual space and we are completely independent individuals. I always wonder if couple’s with joint Facebook accounts truly believe that they are one person, sharing a mind? If you respect and trust your partner that will allow you to afford them independence, than being together and spending time together becomes a choice instead of a chore.

One of the most important things I have learned in my marriage is that love is being present. The most precious gift you can give the one you love is your presence.  Presence in the here and now. I spent a great deal of my relationship stuck in the past, tormenting myself with old hurt and agonizing over the future. I would allow these worries to invade good times and ruin them. To put it in black and white it seems ridiculous but I know a lot of you fail to enjoy the present moment because you are apprehensive about what tomorrow will bring or you are still clinging to the bad thing that happened yesterday or five years ago.

“The past is no longer there; the future is not here yet; there is only one moment to which life is available and that is the present moment” –Buddha

Nothing annoys me more than when I am having a conversation with my husband and I have to keep repeating myself because his attention is focused elsewhere. While researching relationships it was very sobering to realize that I am even guiltier of doing this. If you have ever spent a moment wondering why your significant other doesn’t confide in you more, ask yourself if you are present when they do? Are you playing with your phone, making a mental grocery list, thoughtfully planning what you would do if you won ten million dollars? If you are consistently not present, your lover will bore of confiding in you and you will get the same attention when you confide in them. We want to be treated equally in a relationship but often what we really mean is that we want what we want when we want it with minimal effort on our part. We are setting ourselves up for failure.

Learning to be mindful and live in the present we are not stuck revisiting the pain and the mistakes of the past or torturing our worried minds about a future that is not here yet. Instead we are mindfully enjoying our time together in the moment. It takes a lot of practice to mindfully embrace each moment with a willingness to accept things just the way they are. Once they have happened, we cannot change them but if we allow ourselves we can enjoy the moment or learn from it. Either way we accept the experience.

You can look for love and happiness everywhere which is the equivalent of looking for love in all of the wrong places. Love and happiness resides inside of all of us. My capacity to create joy and be in a healthy, committed relationship comes from loving and accepting myself. Loving myself and investing in myself really does allow me the choice to completely love another.

From the very beginning of my journey to be more mindful and create a life full of happiness and joy I knew that my relationship with my husband would need some examination. Looking back on what I have learned about marriage, from years of being in one, it is amazing how little either of us knew about relationships and what it meant to be in one when we said “I do”. I didn’t even know what the basic principles of a relationship really were and spent years of tortured angst believing it was my responsibility to make my partner happy, instead of subscribing to the notion that I was accountable for my own happiness, as he was his. Building enduring and gratifying relationships depends largely on our ability to extend warmth and kindness to ourselves. It is foolish to expect someone to love us unconditionally if we do not entirely love ourselves!

“They say marriages are made in heaven. So is thunder and lighting”

                                                                                  ~Clint Eastwood

THE SHACK

The Shack/The Missy Project

The Shack

Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity

The Shack is not a book I would normally buy because it confronts the grief of a father (Mack) after the brutal murder of his young daughter. Having daughters it is a subject matter that I would normally back away from. I was with Haley at her School Book Fair and something drew me to it. I picked it up and put it down several times before deciding to take it home and spend an evening curled up reading.

The Shack confronts grief and heartache in a very real and relatable way. It explores the power of forgiveness, faith, hope, grace and love. It asks questions, it helps you seek and find answers, it shows you beauty and truth and for me reinforced some things that I believed to be true.

The Shack wrestles with the timeless question “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”

I became absorbed in this book and I found that the answers that Mack was seeking were often to questions I had asked myself. It took me on a brilliant journey, both compelling and daring, shining a spotlight on things we all struggle with, our faith, our beliefs, our shortcomings…

From beginning to end it painted a vivid picture of human emotion. Sometimes wonderfully eloquent and others deceptive and ugly.

I was captivated, I cried, I was angry, I was justified, I was redeemed, I passed judgment in haste, and I was enlightened.

It is a book that will weave it’s way into your heart and fill up all the cold and empty spaces. I believe in one way or another it will have an impact on you. Powerfully clarifying and gracefully simple, if you read it, you will be changed.

I felt compelled to join the Missy Project to get the word out about this fascinating tale. If you have read let me know what you thought or give it a read and let me know.

Michelle

The Shack/Missy project