Category Archives: Hope

Four Years

I have officially been divorced four years.

The day – March 3rd, to be exact – came and went without incident. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me until this morning that another year had gone by. It feels so damn good to have that time behind me.

March 3, 2011

I’m guessing Marjorie must have gotten tired of signing her name.

 

The past four years – six, really, if you count from my discovery of X’s infidelity – have been the most difficult, refining, tragic, incredible, horrible, deep, dark, elating, wonderful opportunities of growth. What is more, they have been saturated in grace.

I never mean to treat or speak of divorce flippantly, nor do I advocate running out and getting one to find new meaning in your life. But I do think any arduous road or suffering, if faced with honesty, vulnerability and grace, will inevitably bring surrender, acceptance, peace and maturity.

But it’s fucking hard. And there are consequences; results. I still have questions.

Did I marry the wrong person?

Given the fact my husband cheated on me and got remarried four months before we were divorced, my knee-jerk reaction is, “Absolutely! That guy was and still is the worst kind of idiot douche!”

(Side note: as initially painful as it was, the fact I had a Sister Wife will always be ridiculously funny. And true!)

I can argue that I was young and immature when I got married. Sometimes one will make choices that aren’t conducive to marriage. People change. I can also say all the work I have done in therapy over the years has helped me identify my own issues, how to deal with them and exactly what type of person/relationship to avoid.

Yet I have seen young people get married and stay married. People change for the better. I have seen couples stay together after an affair (or two or three). Staying married is a daily choice. Love, itself, is a choice. It takes two people to make it work, long after the romance has faded; when the cellulite is harder to battle; when it takes more than one match to cover up the foulness in the bathroom; when arguments and disappointment are a daily occurrence; when the snoring gets louder and a good night’s sleep is infinitely better than sex.

In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes,

“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will ‘fulfill their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.’ And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to a deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry.”

As much as I want to re-write history and celebrate the fact I have been given a second chance at love (and perhaps marriage), I do not believe I made a mistake in choosing the person I first married. I walked down the aisle in 1999, excited about my future. The young man I married that day had great potential. I loved him. He was my friend. We saw life as an adventure, together. That was enough.

But people make choices. X chose his path and I chose mine. And because God is good, there is a copious amount of grace for us both.

What about the children?

I did not have babies with X. For that I am truly grateful because I would forever be tied to him. I would have never been able to pick up and move to New York on a whim. I wouldn’t have the freedom to travel and do what I love for a living. What is more, I would have to co-parent with someone I do not respect. Most of all, the children would suffer the effects of divorce, perhaps more so than I.

I will never feign to understand what it truly feels like, but I mourn with those of you who have kids and are enduring divorce. I hope each party can be kind to one another. I pray personal issues or suffering will never, ever be used to manipulate children into turning against the other parent. It is child abuse.

I still mourn the loss of my sisters and brothers-in-law, and my nieces and nephews. I was in the operating room when two of them were born, via C-section. Unless the photo albums have all been thrown out and memories erased, there are fourteen years of documentation I was their aunt. I was X’s wife. I was a daughter-in-law. I was a sister-in-law. They were my family.

But they are now strangers. That is deeply sad.

Will I ever marry again? Have a family?

Hell if I know the answer to that question. I have days where I am beyond grateful to be single and childless, living some watered-down version of a Sex and the City episode. There are other days when I wake up to the noise on 5th Avenue and desperately wish I were being smothered by the weight of a good man. If I had a baby, I can assure you I would be the biggest offender of saturating social media news feeds with his or her every waking moment. Ad nauseam.

But marriage is not the answer to life or its problems. It is not the completion of self or fulfillment of happiness. Nor is birthing or even adopting baby humans. I worry for people who are waiting with bated breath to start enjoying their life when marriage and/or family happens. These things are no more guaranteed than the next minute of time.

I sincerely wish we – especially the church – would stop placing marriage and family on a pedestal. Isn’t it enough to be alive, demonstrate love to those around us and acknowledge we, too, are loved?

Easier said than done. But it should be.

When will I fully heal from my divorce?

I believe healing happens in process, and is different for everyone. I was an absolute insane person the first six months after I recognized my marriage had fallen apart. Looking back, I wouldn’t necessarily blame X for wanting out since I reacted to every little thing he did. I felt mortally wounded. A nonstop rollercoaster of fear and emotions drove my words and deeds.

I was a different kind of hot mess after I filed for divorce. I needed to feel free and allow myself to act irresponsibly. I needed to explore what it meant to be single in my thirties, after having been married for the majority of my adult life. I needed space and time to ugly cry, get drunk or laugh heartily. I needed to feel safe. I needed my community. I needed support. I needed therapy. I needed to experience healthy relationship. I even needed to withstand more breakups.

And then I needed to pack my bags, move across the country and start my life all over again.

I’m not sure anyone is ever fully healed from divorce. It is an emotional, physical, mental and spiritual trauma. Initially it is a huge, gaping, seeping wound that needs constant monitoring and care. Sometimes it requires life support.

But eventually the wound scabs over. It becomes a scar. And whereas that scar may never go away, it – along with the memory of the trauma – fades.

****

So, wow. Divorced four years. Separated for six. Soon enough, I will have been divorced longer than I was ever married. The scar remains, but is slowly fading.

X and I have both moved on. We have completely different lives now, and I (think I?) genuinely wish him well. It still strikes me as odd that I was married to someone for ten years, yet I cannot remember the sound of his voice or the touch of his hand. Sometimes he has a cameo in my dreams. Other times I will regale a funny story about my old life with one husband, two cats, three dogs and four chickens in an old house on a rocky hill in sunny Los Angeles.

“That’s so not you!” my new friends gasp, as the Chrysler Building twinkles behind us in the warming spring sunlight.

And they’re right. It’s not me — anymore.

X was my first love. He hurt me deeply, but in no way did he destroy me. Neither did my divorce. If anything, I am free to love more fully and deeply now, and without fear.

Divorce has not defined me. It has refined me.

Spring is Coming

I am absolutely transfixed by the snow falling out my window at present.

Huge flakes gently drop to the earth. Some dance in circular motion before standing completely still, then change direction. Each is individual and dances with purpose. Some attach themselves to the bare trees, decorating them with leaves of crisp, frozen white. The rest fall to the ground. Eventually, the accumulation will be shoveled aside or melt. The unluckiest flakes become curbside slush, dirty ice or – gasp – yellow.

Yet, in flight, snowfall is the most peaceful, magical sight.

Growing up in California, snow was a rare phenomenon. As kids, we’d be corralled into the car and drive for hours just to touch a few inches of the white stuff. We made crude snowmen with whatever we could find and tossed around a few small balls of ice, but that was about it. Back into the car we went, fighting over our favorite seats. (More often than not, I shrewdly won, threatening carsickness.) We were anxious to get back to the sun, warmth and familiarity of home.

When I moved to New York, it was my first experience living in snow. Everything about it was exciting, even the wind chill factor. As the months dragged on, however, the thrill quickly wore off.

January. Yay, snow!
February. Ooh, snow.
March. More snow?
April. You’vegottobefuckingkiddingme SNOW.

It was cruelly cold and biting, and I suffered the worst: improper shoes. I became frustrated and anxious. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Yet, unlike Los Angeles, New Yorkers don’t cancel anything due to inclement weather. I found myself becoming withdrawn, maybe even a little depressed. I missed the sun. I missed the warmth and familiarity of home.

Just when I was ready to give up, spring burst forth, like your favorite boisterous, bosomy, bellowing aunt. She’s the life of every party and always has good gum in her purse. The ice and snow melted away; bare trees slowly budded again and new life emerged.

This happens every single year.

As the flakes outside have turned into a slanted, steady pelting, I realize I have finally learned to live in – and enjoy – the winter. I even have proper shoes. (Two pairs!) I never truly appreciated spring until I fully endured winter. Perhaps it’s because I had it so easy in California. More often than not, you can drive up PCH with the convertible top down; work on your tan and even swim in the ocean in January.

It’s no wonder why people move west. Winter tests our strength and endurance. It isn’t easy to live in such fluctuating weather. No one hands out awards for getting through the difficult season. You survive it because you know spring is coming.

The metaphor here may be obvious to the point of cliché, but I am in the thick of grieving right now. It is dark. I am no stranger to this season. I have survived before. The odds are in my favor: I will survive again.

But I am exhausted. My heart is worn out. And as the obnoxiously loud sanitation truck plows the snow off 5th Avenue below, I declare my resignation. Love is for the most reckless of fools. I give up.

I don’t want sympathy, encouragement or advice. Fuck the poetry of it all. I’ll be fine. Keep that well-meaning horse shit to yourself. (I just made myself laugh. See?) In fact, I’ll encourage myself. If I write the words, they will eventually mean something.

I trust I can get through this. I can trudge through the dirtiest slush and endure the pain of the most freezing rain, sleet or snow. My skin can take the most whipping wind and biting cold. I hope to find the beauty in this season. This is my home now. I trust the sun will re-appear. I trust warmth is waiting. I trust healing will happen. I trust I can love again.

I trust spring is coming. And she damn well better have strawberry bubble gum in her purse.

Thirty-Seven

On August 30, I celebrated my 37th birthday.

I had a very small gathering at a cozy, candle-lit wine bar in Greenwich Village, called 8th Street Wine Cellar. It was the same place I celebrated my 32nd birthday, just one day before moving home to Los Angeles and discovering my husband’s infidelity.

I remember pacing the sidewalk, arguing with X over the phone right before my party started. I didn’t understand why he was so volatile. I didn’t understand why I was so angry with him.

We left the conversation unresolved. He mumbled “Happy Birthday,” and I hung up. I walked down the stairs, into the cool cellar where my friends were waiting. Almost immediately, I was happy again. I was loved. I was celebrated. And I felt torn. I didn’t want to leave New York but I had to try and save my marriage.

*****

It would be more than two years before I returned to New York City. And every time I did, I arranged social gatherings at 8th Street Wine Cellar.

In December 2011, my boyfriend (at the time) surprised me with a trip. I was beside myself with joy. I took him to all my favorite places, including the wine bar. We shared Malbec and charcuterie with my friend (and future roommate), Christy.

In December 2012, I sat in a corner booth with Christy and cried.

“I want to move here,” I blubbered, as tears streamed down my cheeks. “I have to live in New York. But I am so afraid.”

Christy took my hand. “I believe you belong in this city,” she said, gently. “I know God will make a way for it to happen.”

And He did.

In December 2013, after having just found our current apartment, Christy and I sat in the very same corner booth and sketched living room designs on a Tempranillo-stained napkin.

Last Saturday, I celebrated my 37th birthday at 8th Street Wine Cellar. What is more, I experienced a miracle. A full circle. I celebrated God’s kindness in restoring me from the pit of divorce; the ashes of pain and loss. I rejoiced in the fact that even though my marriage failed, I had not. I proclaimed God graciously carried me back to the city where I had begun to find my true identity. I applauded the goodness of singlehood. Over wine and in candlelight, I laughed with my friends at horrible dating stories, parenting snafus and work crises.

I raised a glass to healing and hope.

Thirty-seven is the year of surrender. I know not what the tomorrow may bring. What I do know is that I am fiercely loved. My future – whatever it holds – is bright and full of life.

Thanks be to God.

Having It All

Recently, I asked a friend of mine how many breakups he endured before he got married.

He thought for a moment.

“About eleven,” he answered, matter-of-factly. “I remained friends with just one of them.”

My heart sank. A couple of months ago I ended my second post-divorce relationship. It was a good, brief courtship that simply could not withstand distance. It didn’t end as dramatically as my marriage, or as passionately as things did with my first boyfriend. There was no fight, nothing. It just went away with a phone call.

Afterward, I dutifully prepared myself for a roller coaster of emotions and the five stages of grief. When it finally hit, I felt (in no particular order) relieved, frustrated, listless, sad, depressed, numb and raging angry. I burst into tears on sidewalks and airplanes. I had put everything into this new relationship and it didn’t work out. I cut myself off from social media. Then I cut him off. I deleted any and all evidence we existed as a couple. That was the saddest part.

I now feel resolved.

And, for the love of God, I cannot imagine having to go through this nine more times.

*****

I just so happen to be in Los Angeles for the album release show and party with Louis Prima Jr. and The Witnesses, so I figured I’d pay a visit to my shrink.

I’ve been seeing my therapist five years now – from the initial discovery of my husband’s affair(s) to the very day my earthly belongings left on a moving truck across the country. She’s seen it all. Lately, our visits have been jovial and celebratory.

“I’m really proud of you,” she told me in March. “You’re a miracle.”

This morning, I sat in the center of the familiar floral couch and shared the latest news: gorgeous apartment a block from Central Park, breakup, Japan tour with Brian Setzer and new album and tour with Louis Prima, Jr. I verbally processed how, since moving to New York over a year ago, my lifestyle has become less stable (for lack of a better term), but I now have a solid home base in the city I have always wanted to live.

I have been greatly hashtag blessed with my home, career and community. One thing is still missing, however. I want to share my life with a partner.

“I just don’t know how I will ever meet anyone,” I mused. “I am on the road a lot. I refuse to date online. I did it for years and hated it. I tried a long-distance relationship and it crashed and burned.”

My therapist nodded her head.

“My hope for you,” she said, “is that you’ll meet someone who has his own thing going on, and, at the same time, is flexible and supportive.”

I hummed in agreement, but left thinking, No such man exists.

*****

There’s a huge part of me that is annoyed and angry that I am such a dynamic and talented person. It feels weird to write that without sounding narcissistic, but it’s my truth. For example, if I weren’t so passionate about — and good at! — singing, I wouldn’t be on the road so much. If I were less independent, opinionated, divorced or foul-mouthed and a bit more submissive, googy-eyed and/or mousey, I might land a date with a guy from Christian Mingle who isn’t threatened by my accomplishments, or very presence.

Perhaps if I had a “real” job I’d have time to join a community group at my church in NYC and finally meet someone in the city, get married and have babies. But I won’t do it. I won’t quit what I love just because it’s what everyone else is doing. Other women my age are corralling their two toddlers while the newborn sleeps soundly in a sling tightly wound against their breast. Their husbands still gaze after them adoringly and actually write Facebook posts about how much they love their wives of two, six, 15 or 20 years.

Interestingly enough, neither my ex-husband nor two ex-boyfriends ever acknowledged a relationship with me on social media. No photos. No kissy-face pictures. No adoring posts. Nothing.

The bright side is this: it took less than a minute to erase the relationship and “unfriend” these men I loved. Realistically, I do not believe in the staying power of acknowledging relationships over social media. People come and go, which is why we should all choose our “friends” carefully. As C.S. Lewis says, “Don’t let your happiness depend on something you may lose.” I’m talking to you, serial Facebook-relationshippers.

A true relationship doesn’t need social media to acknowledge, strengthen or sustain it.

*****

Today, I do not believe I can have it all. Based upon experience, I do not actually believe I can have a successful career as a singer and have a family at the same time. It only realistically works for Gwen Stefani and Beyonce, and they were already rich and famous before they met their also-rich and famous husbands.

I am not sure if I believe, at present, there is a man in this world capable of being my partner. Dating is like playing a game of darts with a bunch of squirrely teenagers. They keep trying to hit the bullseye, but their aim and technique is staggeringly immature; unfocused. The result? Consistently off-mark. And I lack patience for the players to become skilled at the game.

Perhaps I still have a lot of work and self-reflection to do. Well, go ahead and throw all the clichés and Christianese talk in the world at me. Tell me how much you think my life is cool. How hashtag blessed I am. How the grass is always greener. I will not argue with you. Yet, at the end of the day, I go to bed alone. My eggs are dying. I am starting to feel jaded. I certainly feel duped. At the same time, life does not owe me a damn thing.

So, right now, if I had to pick one, I choose my career. It’s all I’ve got. Christian Mingle can go fuck itself.

*****

Where is God in all your complaining, Leslie?

Listen, I don’t mean to complain. I prefer to think of it as verbal processing. I try to encourage myself with phrases such as, “This, too, shall pass.”

Jesus never said that, by the way. It’s just another cocktail of Christianese to numb the pain.

I’ll take a double, please. Neat.

Here’s what I do believe today:

  • God is in control. He has never abandoned nor disappointed me. I am not going to live anything less than a full life, even if — or when —  I want more. God is like the ultimate chiropractor. If I’m willing, He’ll adjust me so I’m walking straight again.
  • The two relationships I had post-divorce were real, beautiful and worth every moment, even the breakup grief. I am finally learning you can love someone and let them go. You don’t have to marry every person you love. It’s an amazing concept. I wish I had grasped it years ago.
  • I’m most likely 100% wrong about not having it all. You can have it all when you surrender your hopes, dreams and desires into the capable, loving hands of God, Himself. He may not give you what you want, when you want it, but He knows what you need. He can change your heart. He can mold your desires. You just have to be pliable.

I don’t think I’m ever going to stop desiring a successful career, a partner in this life to love, honor and cherish me (and I him!) and a family. It’s okay to want those things. Hope (and humor!) is what keeps me going. Even if that day comes and I meet a good man who will choose to lead me on the dance floor of life, I guarantee I’m going to continue to want more (I’ll start with a Grammy, please!).

After all, it’s what makes me endearingly human.

Limbo

She couldn’t do it. No matter how hard she tried, it wasn’t going to work. The snowdrift was too high for her feeble feet. She pushed harder, but the harder she pushed, the steeper the incline became. Dirty, dark slush seeped into her stockings, and her shopping bags, hanging loosely from the handles of her walker, began to slip.

“Come on, Ida. You can do this,” she muttered. She encouraged herself a little louder. “You’re not dead yet! Just a few more steps forward!”

Alas, the bright green, synthetic felt covering her walker’s wheels was too soggy to get past the storm drain’s grating.

Stuck.

“Sheeeyit,” she muttered.

The flashing walk sign delivered a ten second warning. She glanced to her right. Several rows of glowing headlights glared at her, waiting impatiently for their chance to accelerate forward. At rush hour, there would be no mercy.

After all, this is New York.

“Hey, lady, lemme help you,” A rough yet kind, deep voice soothed her left ear. One, three, four, then six strong hands were gently placed upon her, lifting her out of the gutter, past the dirty snow and safely onto the sidewalk.

It was swift; effortless. Breathless, she looked up to see who had helped her. Three fresh-faced, teenage boys smiled at her.

“Are you all right?” the boy with the deep voice asked.

The light turned green and the rows of headlights sped past her. One bright, yellow taxicab tore near the storm drain, sending a seemingly vengeful spray of slush up onto the pavement. It narrowly missed hitting all of them.

“Yes…yes, thank you,” she replied, a little shaken. “Thank you, boys.”

“You’re welcome,” another boy squawked. “Be careful!”

And, almost as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone.

*****
Today marks my one-year anniversary of living in New York.

I am sitting on the blue velvety couch in my roommates’ cozy apartment, surrounded by boxes, and my one and a half suitcases. Two months ago, the three of us applied for a bigger apartment and have been waiting, ever since, for the final word of approval.

The process has been so difficult it borders on comical. The details are exhausting. Let’s just say they involve an eviction notice; politics; red tape; 700+ pages of paperwork; begging over social media for a wealthy guarantor; illegally squatting in the current apartment; losing $850.00 to a shady, Florida-based moving company; an expensive, last-minute, one-way plane ticket; missing the flight for a mandatory, in-person “income verification interview”; my roommate getting punched in the face; a sea of tears, a gallon of whiskey and almost giving up hope.

It’s just been too much.

On top of it all, I just pressed the pause button on a brand new relationship with a wonderful man whom I fiercely and dearly love. Our relationship started off long distance, and a great job opportunity extended that distance. I am confused. I am scared. I am heartbroken.

Oddly enough, this season of limbo has been the most trying yet. Sure, I have survived divorce. I have thrived in the aftermath. I am finally living in the city of my dreams, but it hasn’t looked like I wanted it to. At all.

Today, we still have no answer. I had hoped God would wink at me on my official anniversary. In my Disney-esque spiritual fantasy, we would have signed the lease today. At the same time, I know we are going to move into this apartment. The wait will be worth it for many reasons: we will live in Manhattan, not Brooklyn or Queens. We will live a block from Central Park. Best of all, my share of the rent will be a mere $14.00 more than what I paid for my first apartment — when I got married — fourteen years ago.

I will not just survive New York City; I will thrive here.

*****

I’m quietly celebrating my anniversary this evening. Much like the scene I observed on the corner of 75th and Broadway last night, I cannot push forward any more. I’m stuck in limbo, but I know there will be swift, strong hands to help me. I know there is always a soothing voice in my ear, even from the least expected source. I know I’m not alone.

And that’s enough for now.

Divorce Group

I attended a Divorce Support Group through Redeemer Presbyterian Church this week.

Honestly, I didn’t want to go. I imagined a bunch of weepy, jaded women sitting in a circle, holding hands and re-hashing their traumatic divorce experiences whilst chanting mantras of strength and hope. I didn’t want any more reasons to be angry with derelict, cheating or lazy husbands, and I certainly didn’t want to find myself crying over X.

I’m so over that guy.

I would rather shed tears over my most recent boyfriend, the bludgeoning of baby seals, or the fact that it takes me 45 minutes to commute to the gym.

Still, I hoped to learn something new, or perhaps help another attendee in her struggle. After all, I have a book coming out on the topic. I’m an expert on what it’s like to be messily divorced, and actually thrive in the aftermath. (Right?)

I added a teaspoon of sugar to my cup of strong, black tea, sat myself down on a cushiony chair in the plush, Upper West Side apartment, and began to listen.

Andi Brindley was our guest speaker for the evening. Though physically present, she opted to share a video testimony. In the film, she described her family background, early recognition of her parents’ marital struggle (they eventually split), and her own divorce after four children and 30 years of marriage.

All ten of us sat in a semi-circle, sipping harmless beverages and crunching on mini carrot sticks, and crackers dipped in hummus.

So far, so good, I thought to myself, as I glanced over the group. Nobody’s crying. I think we can handle this.

Andi calmly explained how the dissolution of her marriage came to fruition.  Her husband was a workaholic who ended up hospitalized from the stress and exhaustion of planting a church. He eventually changed careers, which lead him to travel even more. One day, Andi’s husband left for Washington, D.C., and never returned.

“The day he was supposed to return home,” Andi nodded to the camera, “he faxed me a letter that said, ‘I’m going to stay in this area for a while to give you the separation it seems you want.’”

Not long after, divorce papers were served.

“I never thought this would be my life,” Andi lamented. “I was completely disoriented; devastated. I had devoted my life to not arriving at this point. At yet, here I was.”

“YES!” I heard myself almost shout, and heads turned. I flashed an apologetic grin and shoved a carrot in my mouth. Next door, a young child plunked lazy scales on the piano, then pounded out a lightning-fast version of When the Saints Go Marching In.

The video continued, with Andi’s court date.

“Truthfully, it was kind of a non-event at that point,” she said. “The judge…read through the papers…and we were done. It was strange. But that’s not the most memorable part of that day.”

Ooh, this is getting good! I thought, excitedly.  I adjusted my sit bones on the chair, and leaned forward, allowing my imagination to run wild.  I half-hoped Andi would share something deliciously evil that her ex-husband had done, or reveal that she, too, had a Sister Wife. Perhaps there was a lost love child in the mix?!

“The day was ending, and it was time to go to bed,” Andi’s televised voice competed with the neighboring pianist, who banged louder on the keys.

“…and I thought, ‘You cannot wake up with these rings on your fingers. They don’t belong there…I found myself dropping to my knees by the bed, and as I took the rings off, I found myself so moved – not by the sadness of the moment – but…overwhelmed by God’s faithfulness to me.”

I gasped.  Andi continued.

“I said to [God], ‘I want to give You the devotion that I thought I would be giving to an earthly husband. I want You to have it for the rest of my life. You are the only One worthy of my whole heart and devotion, and it’s Yours forever.’”

Suddenly, without warning, my heart lurched forward in my chest, sending a wave of explosive tears up through my throat, sinuses and eyes. Hot, salty tears streamed down my face. I heard a few other women sniffle, but I felt I was the one crying the hardest. 72-year old Ellie quickly passed a box of tissues.

So much for the “expert” keeping it together in Divorce Group.

Andi’s testimony continued long after the video ended.  I found myself crying even more as she expressed a real, continued, deep struggle with her faith. Although her divorce was final over ten years ago, Andi still wrestles with the familiar darkness and loneliness that accompanies dissolution of marriage. Her husband has since re-married.

Andi has not. Yet she is content.

As I left Divorce Group that evening, I wondered if I could ever be like Andi: calm, quiet, strong, faithful and trusting, knowing the God of the Universe is all we ever really need. I started to think about how far He’s brought me, how much I’ve changed over the past four years, and how my divorce is the best thing that ever happened to me — only in that it made me fall to my face and cry out in desperate need for Him. I have met and grown in relationship with God, who loves me more than any human being could ever be capable.

I truly hope to be married again someday, and I deeply hope to bear children. I long to be a mother. It’s not up to me, however. My job is to keep trusting; keep putting one foot in front of the other. I do so sometimes with strength, and sometimes stumbling, but I know, without a shadow of a doubt, God is with me, holding my hand, ever so tightly.

New Me in New York, Part Deux

I’ve been in New York for two weeks now.

Even in winter, it’s everything wonderful I remember: towering architecture, flashing marquees, glowing stage lights and bright, yellow taxicabs; crowded subways and quaint cafes filled with people from all walks of life. The bustling noise and busyness is always offset by a quiet, wooden park bench, and the harsh wind and cold, made warmer by the coo of a lone dove perched on the fire escape.

I love this city with all my heart.

I’m staying in my friends’ apartment in West Harlem, while they are away for several weeks. A couple of months ago, while I lay sick in my bed in Pasadena, I declared over social media I was going to allow people to love me this year. Almost immediately, I received a phone call. My friends responded with, “Come to New York, stay in our place and pay what you can. And by ‘what you can’ — even if we don’t get a dime, it’s okay.”

I burst into tears, accepted their more-than-generous offer, and started packing.

Here I am, and I even survived – I’d say frolicked in — the big blizzard of 2013.

I heart blizzards.

I heart blizzards.

There is always beauty after the storm.

There is always beauty after the storm.

It’s hard to not project into the future, however. I started looking for apartments so I can live on my own, but quickly got discouraged because I can’t afford it. I’ve been auditioning as much as I can, but nothing happens overnight. I need work, and badly. I want so desperately to be able to support myself and really make this happen. I am determined to not have to move back to Los Angeles, with my tail tucked between my legs, and nothing to show for my time here.

I’ve been given a second chance and do not want to fail.

*****

I’ve lived in New York City before. I moved four years ago, on February 13, 2009.  X accompanied me on the plane ride out, for I didn’t want to go alone. I was still reticent about the decision we had made – and prayed for – together, but somehow I knew it was a huge step forward in my life.

We arrived at JFK and lugged my three tattered suitcases through the subway, towards Morningside Heights (Harlem). The same couple housing me now had offered their couch for a couple of weeks while I waited for the room I had rented in Queens to be available.

As we crossed the threshold into my friends’ tiny apartment, I immediately felt at home; peace.

X and I sat down on the blue, velvet couch and sipped homemade coffee with our friends. We all marveled at how I had finally arrived in New York, with a job, and an opportunity to shoot for the stars — at least for six months. I complained about having to swing the off-Broadway show I was in (I want to go back and slap my entitled attitude!), and worried about how I’d manage a six-month separation from my beloved husband.

The answer was simple: we’d endure. It was only six months. The potential opportunities were worth the possible struggle of loneliness and separation.

Yet, those six months – February to August, 2009 – were the cruelest, saddest and loneliest times I have ever experienced in my life.

“I love you more than anything, Leslie,” X reassured me, after we had finished our coffee, and were waiting on the curb for his airport cab to arrive, to take him back to Los Angeles.

I kicked a chicken bone out from under the heel of my boot and brushed the tears from my eyes.

“I hate the thought of not being with you,” I cried. “You are the best thing that has ever happened to me, and your unwavering support and encouragement means the world to me. I could not do this without you. I honestly couldn’t have dreams without you, because I think you believe in me more than I believe in myself.”

“I support you one million percent,” X replied.  “I will hate being away from you, too, but we’ll make it work. After all, we love each other and are most important to each other.”

The cab arrived. My husband hugged me, slid his tall, thin frame into the back seat, and drove away. I would see him in New York just once more in the following six months. Little did I know then, I had already lost him.

*****

Four years later – I have gained a whole new me.

As I have wandered the city these past two weeks, I know I am different.  I feel it.  I may be alone, but alone doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. I have bigger dreams than I ever had the courage to dream before.  I feel calm. Humbled. Confident. Expectant. Excited. My future has never been more unsteady or unsure, but I know it will be all right.

I am not worried about failing.  Just by being in this vibrant city this very moment, and every millisecond that follows — for however long I am able to remain – I have already succeeded.

Lost Entry

I’m moving to New York in less than two weeks.

It’s surreal. It’s terrifying. It’s beyond exciting, it’s crazy, and it’s about time. I’m packing up my beloved, cozy Pasadena apartment – the place I have healed from my divorce for the past two years – and cramming it all into a 5×10 storage unit. A week from Monday I will board a plane with a suitcase, my book of audition songs, a pair of really good heels, my computer and a huge-ass smile.

I am going back. 

Since I made the firm decision to go just four days ago, I have little time to pack and move out.  Last night, my friend Lisa came over to help me sort and toss things I don’t – and didn’t ever – need.  For example, I have a plethora of Post-It notes and an abundance of Scotch tape. I have rusted tools I don’t even know how to use, and I’ve kept a box full of tax returns dating all the way back to 1999.

Lisa opened up a bottle of ironic red wine and we got to work. Her task was to organize the Scotch tape. Mine was to sort and toss documents.

When I moved out of my house in April 2010, I made a point to keep only important or necessary things regarding my marriage (original marriage license; tax returns and receipts; mortgage and divorce papers).  Still blinded by hurt, betrayal and raw emotion, I threw away almost anything else that reminded me of X and our marriage. I couldn’t bear even his handwriting in my new apartment.

I wanted all evidence of him in my life, gone.

I opened the box containing the ancient tax returns and found a mid-sized, bright, red notebook. I almost tossed it, sight unseen, but was more curious as to why my 2010 self had saved it.

I flipped it open, and took a sip of my wine. The first several pages contained audition information dating back to 2002. I wrote down every audition I had – including the Brian Setzer Orchestra (which had “BOOKED!!!” and a huge smiley face written all over it). Each successful page contained evidence of my marriage: scribblings on paint colors for each room in our house, a home repair “To-Do” list, plans for a happy dive vacation X and I took to Panama in 2005, and then, suddenly, notes from my first, desperate phone call to our marriage counselor, concerns about leasing our home, and a preliminary division of debt and assets.

For having covered so many years of our 10-year marriage, the notebook was only half full.  The last writing contained a journal entry I don’t even remember penning.

I gasped as I scanned the pages.

“Lisa! Listen to this,” I exclaimed, as I set my wine glass down on the coffee table.

I leaned forward and began to read, aloud, the carefully printed lost entry.

October 4, 2009

I feel like having sex with X displays total weakness. I need it, and he gets it, but he doesn’t have to work very hard at — or for — it.  There’s still no sign of emotional consequences for his actions. I don’t doubt at all he thinks of her while he is having sex with me.  He doesn’t even really kiss me – and this new way he kisses is extremely different, which means he kissed her A LOT and apparently was taught not to slobber anymore. It makes me beyond angry to think that my husband’s lover taught him anything.  She was 14 years old when X and I got married.  I wish he would have done her then and gone to jail.

But I am weak.  I am getting what I want, too, and if I can pretend he’s actually really into me, it’s a good day. I don’t feel so rotten and ugly and rejected.

X leaves for Spain tomorrow. I don’t even know when he will be back. No doubt he’ll pine after his lover – with all those romantic places and it being Europe and all. I don’t doubt there will be many a Spanish, Portuguese or Brazilian girl to catch his eye, and with his [male] companion there will be late nights and lots of parties.

Perhaps X won’t be tempted, but he certainly won’t be thinking about me. Me, the last person on his mind for the past six months.  Yeah, it’s going to take time. What a rotten predicament. He’s the first person on my mind and I’m the absolute last on his.  I feel like the nerdy, zitty, overweight teenager who is desperately in love with the popular, attractive and charming athlete – who doesn’t even know she exists.

X is barely aware of my existence.  My own husband doesn’t notice me.

So I have given in and given him his needs and he gives back nothing but a hug or an arm touch here and there.  What a stupid fool I am.  Stupid, stupid fool. Thinking I can desperately try to get him to notice me, love me, need me, miss me – those days are over and another person has taken that place.  I am cast aside like yesterday’s garbage. Maybe there’s something worth salvaging in the stinking, rotting trash can but there’s always something new or better where that came from.

I have no pride. I am totally broken.  God, my only hope is in You. I still believe You can/will redeem my relationship with X, and I confess my total impatience. I also can’t force anything to happen.  People don’t change, which absolutely includes me. He got tired of me and my “deal” and found, quickly, someone to take my place. And that connection is still stronger to him than anything he or I ever had because I am too familiar, too predictable, too blasé.  Too “moral”.  Too Christian.

All X can see is his career. Now I know what it felt like for him when I was in New York.  It’s like some sort of cruel payback.

“Oh, God, you are my God. Earnestly I seek You.  My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You. In a dry and weary land, where there is no water…” (Psalm 63:1)

“People,” says God’s wisdom, “do not expect either truth or consolation from other people. It is I who made you and I alone can teach you what you are.” ~Blaise Pascal

God, I feel like I am a walking contradiction. I am totally impatient for X – I so desperately want him to fall in love with me again and love me more fiercely and passionately than ever, yet I neglect my relationship with You in the process. No matter how much X rejects or hurts me I keep coming back for more. I concentrate on his unfaithfulness yet I am doing the exact same thing to You.  I have been unfaithful all the while, to You.

God, I still pray for wisdom and strength; hope and trust.  Just because X utters the words, “I love you,” and has sex with me does not mean he is faithful or true.

I want so much to believe him.

God, I pray for this trip he is taking to Spain. It could be the culmination of everything good and healing; of redemption, else it will just be a continuation of the same old story; of limbo.

But that is for him. Not me.

God, I seek You and trust that X will return to You (and me); I fervently pray for him; that You would protect him from the predictable, yet devastating wiles of the devil.

It does seem as if X has taken some steps forward – third time’s a charm! – but I am still hesitant to believe or trust him fully.  I want to.  I want our marriage to survive. And so I will commit to it and trust that You, Lord – You alone will move mountains and redeem us.  I want my marriage to be beautiful and holy. But I might be the only one at this point.

Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of the heavenly realms.”

God, have mercy.

* * * * *

God did have mercy. Additionally, He showered me with His love, kindness, goodness and grace. Because of Him, it has been revealed how strong, worthy and beautiful I truly am.

I am never cast aside. I will always be noticed. I will always be loved.

I want so much to travel back in time and tell my hurt, betrayed, dejected self everything will eventually be more than all right.  That is not to say times will have been easy. Even as the pain and memories have faded, my divorce will always be a small part of who I am.

I surprised myself last night when, in addition to the lost entry, I found one of the very first (and only remaining) pictures I have of X and I together.  We were standing on a beach in Santa Barbara, holding one another and grinning from ear to ear.  It was obvious we were happy in love. Both my arms were wrapped around him, tightly.

I stared at his face, then mine, and his again. And I remembered, even last night, how I loved that boy. My first love.

I felt a strange sensation in my chest, and my throat tightened.

“Oh, my goodness, I’m going to cry,” I admitted, slightly embarrassed.  I passed the picture to Lisa.

“It’s OK to cry,” she soothed, as the water welled up in my eyes.  “You knew, even then, who he truly was.”

I nodded my head and allowed the tears to wet my cheeks.

“I did. That – I pointed to his fresh, smooth, familiar and happy face – “is the X I knew and loved, and want to remember.”

I dried my brief tears, and carefully returned the picture to its original envelope. I then placed it into the deep recesses of the accordion file, along with the single person tax returns I do need to save, for a few more years. It will all go into storage, until it’s time to move again.

And so, my life continues to catapult forward.  This new adventure upon which I am about to embark is a huge leap of faith; a swan dive into the unknown.

One thing is for certain, however: God is with me. He was with me then, He is with me now, and He will be with me in the days, weeks, months, years and eternity to come.

Daniel Barden, 7

Last Friday, tragedy struck a small town in Connecticut.  A troubled young man ravaged an elementary school with guns, killing 26 people. Twenty of the victims were children, all between the ages of 6 and 7 years old.

I was heading up to my hotel room in Houston, Texas, when I saw the news splayed across multiple television screens.

My initial reaction was shock.

Another one?

Yet, I carried on about my day.  The band had been invited to a private tour of NASA at the Johnson Space Center and Neutral Buoyancy Lab. I needed to geek out on spaceships for a minute, so I posted silly pictures of me posing in an astronaut’s helmet; holding hands with a diving dummy; and with Brian Setzer and (half) his Orchestra behind Apollo Mission Control desks.

After a fulfilling tour and good Tex-Mex dinner, I returned to my hotel room.  I flopped onto the hard bed and flipped on the television. Every news channel was laden with the day’s tragedy.  Still, not much information was known, but the media coverage was almost too much to bear.  I felt guilty my day had been uneventful; just fun and silly.

On a deeper level, I felt a bit selfish that my new life is going so well, and others are enduring so much pain.  I would never assume my experience with pain and loss is anywhere near the depth of losing a child, but I know well the crevasses along the journey of grief.

Suddenly, I wanted to ignore it all.  It was too heavy. I changed the channel, and somewhere between the ending of The Lord of the Rings and the beginning of Die Hard, I fell asleep.

The next morning, I trudged down to breakfast.  My driver, Steve, was just finishing his meal. Steve is a good, solid man who fiercely loves God, his wife, and his children. He is also a successful tour manager, fellow musician and friend.

He sat quietly. I plopped down my grits and coffee next to a saxophone player, and invited Steve to join us.

We all began to talk about our day off, and quickly learned Steve’s best friend had lost his 7-year old son, Daniel, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Daniel Barden

Daniel Barden

Suddenly, the media-heavy tragedy really hit home. It felt as if someone had punched us all, squarely, in the gut, heart and face.

Feelings of guilt welled up inside of me once again.  I had no words of wisdom; no profundity to share.  Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all.  At the same time, therein lay an opportunity to help: to support the support of a family who is searching for answers; who needs comfort and peace.

Tears were present in Steve’s kind, blue eyes as he talked about his best friend’s family.

“They are as precious as you will find,” he smiled, mournfully, as he stared into his coffee cup. “It’s killing me to be away from them. I can’t even imagine what they are dealing with right now.”

He continued.

“As we were crying together over the phone last night, [my friend] didn’t mention ‘stricter gun laws’ or ‘gun possession should be a felony’, but rather, ‘how could someone do this?  How do we go on?’”

All politics aside, in the wake of such senseless tragedy, how do we go on?

I don’t know. But God does.

Everyone’s journey of grief is different, but at some point in the process, we all have a choice.  We either turn to the Father, or we turn away from Him.

I, for one, cannot do life without Him. It is my fervent prayer that we all turn to Him.

*****

Long after the saxophone player left his tip on the breakfast table, Steve and I still sat.  He described how happy and spirited Daniel was, recalled how his parents first met, and detailed how Daniel and his older siblings were — and are — the light of their parents’ lives. Steve then showed me a picture.  It was of Daniel, posing playfully with his older brother and sister on the beach.  His smile instantly indicated he was full of life, pure joy, and missing his two bottom teeth.

I pushed aside my half-eaten grits and allowed my eyes to well up with tears.

And then, Steve perked up.

“It’s so awesome to picture little Daniel’s face glowing as he sits on the Father’s lap,” his deep, blue eyes twinkled. “God is good.”

And, for an all-too brief moment, we were quiet. Comforted.  Grateful for the glimpse of joy in a sea of sorrow; grateful for hope.

There is always hope. God is always good.  May we find comfort and peace in the loving arms of our Creator.

Daniel Barden has.

Daniel

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” ~Matthew 19:14

Additional close friends of the Barden family have set up a fund to help them in their time of grief.  If you are able, financial donations are appreciated and welcomed.  Please pray often for this family — and all the families — who have lost their precious loved ones.

http://www.bardenfund.com

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On the Road Again, Part Three

Two songs in, beads of sweat have already formed on my brow.  I’ve not done much singing yet, just movement.  Soon, my bouncy, curly hair will become wet and stringy, my feet will go numb in their 4” designer heels and the perspiration will overtake my face, neck and chest, but I don’t care.  The energy onstage is pulsating; the excitement from the crowd, intoxicating.

There isn’t much time to mop up the sweat, or gulp sips of water. Brian has his Vixens on stage for all but three songs in the entire show.  He features us vocally in two separate solos, and invites us to join the trio set to spread a little “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Blue Christmas” cheer.  (Never mind that last paradox.)

When it’s time to “Rock This Town”,  the entire venue is on their feet, screaming, clapping, dancing and cheering.  It takes hours to come down from such a high.  My ears ring a bit and my face hurts from grinning, but every night on stage is worth it.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

*****

A few days ago, we had a show in Peoria, Illinois.  We drove overnight from Nashville, and arrived in Peoria around 8 in the morning.  I stirred from my cozy bunk on the bus and dragged my luggage to my hotel room.  Outside, the weather slowly warmed from a brisk 19 to a tolerable 34 degrees.  The sun was shining happily and the sky illuminated a deep, clear blue.

I decided to take a walk.  The last time I had been in such a small town in Illinois was in 2009.

Aurora.

I distinctly remember the toy trains in our hotel lobby, slowly chugging their way through overgrown, overly lit Christmas wreaths and past an astounding assortment of Nutcracker and ballerina figurines.

A single, fake daisy was glued into the bottom of a red, bulbous vase and placed atop every three-legged continental breakfast table.  The lone cereal dispenser was surprisingly low on Cheerios and high on Frosted Flakes.

I ventured outside to see what else Aurora had to offer.  The sky was dismally grey and there was cold, hard snow on the ground. My boots, although warmly lined, had a small heel on them, so I slipped across the ice on my way towards the Fox River.

Image

The Fox River, Aurora, Illinois.

When I reached the bridge, I stopped for a moment, and noticed something moving in the icy water.

Ducks.

I stared at the birds in horror.  First of all, I know nothing about ducks or their migratory patterns, but something didn’t seem right.

What the quack are these ducks doing, swimming through the ice? Why didn’t they fly south? How will they find food?  It’s too cold for them to be out here. How will they survive?

I was so concerned for the ducks, I felt I should find the nearest convenience store, buy a loaf of bread, and feed them. But all that was in the vicinity of the poor mallards was a shoe repair shop, and a flashy casino filled with smoking gamblers, dragging their oxygen tanks from slot machine to slot machine.

So I stood, frozen, on that bridge.  Helpless.  Helpless to help the ducks.

Gentle snowflakes began to fall, and I started to cry.

I cried for the ducks and their unknown fate.  I cried for their struggle with life in the frozen wintertime.  I cried at not being able to help them.  Additionally, I was slightly angry with them for not having gotten away when they had the chance.  They were stuck in the ice and snow, until spring awakened warmth and new life.

The snow started to flurry harder and I shivered in my thin, wool coat.  Dejected, I turned and walked back to the hotel, wiping away tears.  I said a prayer for the birds and hoped they’d make it.

I wanted out of Illinois as soon as possible.

*****

Peoria, 2012:  As I approached the riverfront, the whipping wind took me by surprise.  At the same time, the sun warmed my face and the crisp air felt refreshing.

Image

Peoria, Illinois. December 10, 2012.

I gazed out at the river. No ducks. Instead, a lone seagull flew overhead.

I chuckled a bit at the memory of the ducks in Aurora.  In my desperate and compassionate concern for them, I couldn’t see they were surviving the season in their lives that day.  They might have been cold, but they were swimming. They were surviving. There was nothing else they could do, but keep on.

Winter doesn’t last forever. Seasonal days aren’t always harsh and grey.  Sometimes they can be warm and gentle. I think even the ducks know this.

And the most beautiful thing of all: spring is coming.

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