Category Archives: New beginnings

18th Universary

Today is my 18th Universary.

I don’t feel anything. It just seems like an uneventful blip on the radar of life. A hiccup. A fart. Weird.

Last year on this date, I sang at my uncle’s memorial service. Just a few days prior, my boyfriend ended our almost two-and-a-half-year relationship over email.

You know the story: that event sent my heart and mind into a spiral of lyrics. I began to compose music in my head. And then I asked for help. And then I went to Nashville and wrote more songs. And then I raised funds to help pay for the cost of recording, and all that other stuff. And a week before my 40th birthday, I recorded my very first solo album. And it’s REALLY good.

Bucket list. Check.

In the back of my mind, I have been waiting for this week to happen. Not so much that today would have been my 18th wedding anniversary, but that I would make it to the year mark of my blindsided breakup.

“I think that dude’s actions have probably occupied your mind and heart long enough,” recently said my friend and fellow bandmate, Phil.

He is so very right. Perhaps it is hard for me to let people go. I don’t understand why they act so epically shitty without regard for other people’s feelings, or seeming consequence. And perhaps it’s a simple explanation: it actually has nothing to do with me.

“As you grow, you pick people who match you. You’ll choose better next time. It’s less a matter of finding someone up to your standards and more about gravitating towards a better match,” said my therapist back in December.

Hey, guess what? I’m growing. It hasn’t been easy, but right now it feels really damn good.

It’s necessary and good to grieve. I have done that. It is necessary and good to move forward. I am doing just that.

And as scary and wonderful and unexpected and unplanned as it has been, I am dating again.

Here we go.

Again.

Five Days Left

Hopped in a Via and started chatting with my driver, Bakary.
 
We chatted about life, heartbreak, surviving in/the city; our dreams and fears.
 
I told him how I was attempting to raise funds so I can record an album. I told him how, when I first launched the project on Kickstarter, I don’t think I actually believed it would happen.
 
And now, with five days left, I’m so very close. I’m so close I can smell the vocal booth in the studio; I can hear horn parts on the bridge of one of my songs. I am close to tears thinking about all of the people who have pledged so far — a majority of you childhood classmates; friends.
 
It is an amazing thing to be so loved. Even if this project doesn’t fully fund (and I’m praying it will!) I have learned something absolutely invaluable:
 
You all believe in me.
You have supported me without question; without hearing one note of my music.
I am astounded.
And it pushes me even further: to get this project funded, recorded, mixed, mastered and delivered.
 
Bakary pulled over at my destination, got out of the vehicle and carefully placed my luggage on the curb. He smiled at me from at least a foot above.
 
“You have a good heart, Leslie,” he said. “You are a very special person. Don’t let anything or anyone change you. Even this city.”
 
I opened my arms to this stranger — my new friend.
 
“Let’s hug it out, Bakary!”
 
“I love you!”
 
“I love you, too!”
 
 Click HERE to pledge to my project. There’s just five days left!

Heartbreak is a Gift

I’ve 20 days left to raise funds to make my album happen.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion. I can’t be anything other than myself. I do my work and hope it speaks for itself.

But sometimes you have to see yourself as others see you.

My friend Chelsea — an exceptional writer whom I met several years ago when she interviewed me for an assignment about Christians who exercise curse words — offered to write yet another.

Leslie-Intelligentsia-2-copy

And it’s just perfect. Here’s an excerpt:

“That’s what I’m looking forward to, when Leslie’s record comes out. Knowing her and her work, I know it will be sour, bitter and sweet in perfect proportion, like an old-fashioned made right. It will be sharp enough to make the heartbreak culprit bleed, while being gentle enough to bind up your own wounds. It’ll stroke your hair with reflective insight and slap your ass with humor.

Best of all, Leslie’s record will give you more than words. Hers is the big, bad, ‘you can’t ignore me now’ voice of the woman who really tried to do it all the nice way, and is finally going to speak her mind.”

Read the article here.

*****

As of today, I am 40% funded. That is amazing! But I still have more to go. Click to make a pledge here. Don’t be afraid to pledge now; the funds will not be deducted unless the project is entirely funded on March 29, 2017.

And, as always, sincere thanks.

 

Sunday In The Park With Candace

I was out the door at 7:15 am yesterday, bound for a new church gig in Sheepshead Bay. Exhausted from the day before (brief video shoot in Central Park to promote fundraising for my album and co-hosting a baby shower in my home for a woman I had never met), I wasn’t sure I would be able to get through the morning.

But work is scarce right now, and any day I’m hired to sing is a good one.

The church gathered at an old-timey yacht club, right on the water. Originally established in 1908, it was built as a family summer home for Rheingold Beer. Upon arrival, my grumpiness over the 90-minute subway commute dissolved. The creaky dining hall overlooked the peaceful bay, which was well stocked with neatly parked sailboats. Seagulls, pigeons, geese and swans fluttered about, happily. After all, the forecast predicted an unseasonably warm day.

Song leading went as well as it could. The congregation was small yet familial; they embraced me with open arms and hearts.

Almost immediately after the service ended, an older gentleman appeared behind the bar and began polishing glasses.

“Excuse me,” I said, as I zipped my black leather jacket up over my spring dress. “Do you happen to know if anyone here offers sailing lessons? Last fall I took a course out in California but I won’t be going back there because — “

I stopped myself. This guy did not have time for a breakup story. It wasn’t pertinent, anyway. Furthermore, he had a bar to open.

I cleared my throat and began again.

“I took sailing lessons a few months ago and would like to keep up my chops.”

“You gonna be around this summer?” I could almost taste his Brooklyn accent.

“Yes,” I smiled.

He extended his hand.

“I’m Bob. Nice to meet you. Next time you come back, ask for George Johnson. He’ll throw you on a boat. He’s always looking for crew.”

“Great! Oh, wow! That’s great! Thank you!” I chirped, and skipped out the door.

I navigated my way back to Manhattan on the Q train, which recently has been extended up to 96th Street and 2nd Avenue. It isn’t my normal route home, but I was up for adventure. Especially since the temperature was steadfast at a perfect 65 degrees.

I exited the train, took off my jacket and slung it over my shoulder. The sun was bright and warm. A gentle breeze flirted with my hair. I felt good. Confident. Cool. New York is my boyfriend and he was treating me to a glorious day out. And, in a few months, I would be sailing again.

I casually strolled up 96th towards the park and noticed a very petite, blonde woman being walked by her three dogs. The male pit-mix puppy whined with excitement and anticipation.

“I know, Mac,” she blared. “We’re almost there. Just two more blocks. But you have to be patient.”

Mac shot her a look, barked, and kept tugging towards the park.

I giggled, audibly.

“Isn’t it wonderful to be wearing a dress in February?” the woman said to me.

I looked down at my clothing, then back at her. I had briefly forgotten it was February.

“Yes!” I shrieked. “I’m originally from California and I quickly realized that, although snow is fun and cute, it’s not necessarily welcome in my daily routine. I much prefer this.” I gestured with open hands to the clear, blue sky.

She laughed. “I went to college in California!” The five of us kept heading in the direction of the park.

Eventually we sat down on the same bench. She let her dogs off the leash.

“I’m sure I’ll get a ticket, but who cares? MAC! GET BACK HERE!” She bellowed, then bolted off the bench to retrieve him.

I turned my face towards the sun, closed my eyes and smiled.

“What’s your name?” I asked, when she returned with her exuberant, wayward puppy.

“I’m Candace,” she extended her hand.

“Leslie,” I said, and shook it. Her firm grip pleasantly accompanied her kind eyes.

Out of nowhere, a park ranger appeared and inched towards us in her golf cart.

“Here we go,” Candace rolled her eyes. She gathered up the dogs and held them close.

But the park ranger didn’t budge. Mac started impatiently whining again.

“Oh, fuck it. I’m just going to go ask if my damn dogs can have a little joy off their leashes today.”

I watched her as she marched towards the golf cart. Three minutes later, the dogs were released. The park ranger continued to sit still.

“Wow! That was impressive!” I called, as I shielded my eyes from the sun.

“Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want,” Candace smiled. “Life’s too short to be timid and follow the rules. Don’t let them take you by the balls! Take risks! Be confident! Believe in yourself!”

I began to feel like I had been to church twice that day, and the sun was still high in the sky.

“So, what do you do?” Candace asked, as Sadie the Weimaraner dropped a muddy ball into her lap.

“I’m a singer and a writer,” I replied. “In fact, I just got back from Nashville where I wrote an album.”

“Wow! That’s great!” Candace exclaimed. “MAC! MAC! STOP DIGGING OVER THERE!”

She turned back to me.

“What kind of music is it? What genre? What led you to writing it?”

I took a deep breath in.

“Well, it’s a culmination of a lot of things,” I answered, a little too eagerly. “It might sound like a cliché, but it all began with a bunch of lyrics in my head over my latest breakup.”

I paused, then laughed.

“I guess you could say I publicly process my heartbreak. With my divorce, I wrote a blog that is becoming a book. And now? An album.”

“I totally get that!” she chimed in. “I’m divorced, too. And I recently had to end a promising relationship, myself. But more on that later. What happened to you?”

We settled into our park bench. I told her the story of my divorce and she listened intently, sometimes nodding and humming in agreement; sometimes with occasional outbursts of disbelief.

“WHAAAAT?!!? Who does that?! How is that even legal?”

We howled with laughter. I silently took note of how easy it was to talk about my divorce; to actually laugh about it. I am relieved it is behind me. Certainly, time lessens the severity of the wounds, but it is what you do with that time that matters most.

I moved on to the story of my latest relationship endeavor.

“I guess the best way of putting it is to quote my therapist,” I concluded. “Right guy, wrong time.”

“Yeah, but you have no closure! I mean, GOD.” She threw her head back. “I swear, men are missing a sensitivity chip.”

I laughed, then twisted my lips, swallowing to keep a surge of pain from becoming too overwhelming.

“Very true. But, to be honest, if all of this hadn’t happened, I may not have gone to Nashville and written these songs. I’m not going full-on Adele or Taylor Swift here, but I believe writing – creating, really! – is cathartic. And in turn, healing.”

“It certainly is,” Candace agreed. “Hey, listen – ”

She pulled a card from her doggie diaper bag and gave it to me.

“I’m a CEO and produce a lot of high-end events. I think you should come to them and meet people. Network, et cetera. Aaaand,” she winked, “You never know whom you might meet!”

I beamed. I certainly wasn’t about to tell her I normally work high-end events as a Captain or bartender for extra money.

“I know you probably need some more time to heal, but you should definitely dress up, come out and have some fun. MAC! MAC! WHERE ARE YOU?”

I dug in my purse, fished out my own card and handed it to her.

“I would love that, Candace. I really would.”

She smiled, then glanced at her phone. She had two missed calls.

“Well, I should probably head back home to the kids,” she stood up. “Let’s be in touch! And until we meet again – keep writing. Don’t be afraid to get that album funded. You can do it!”

We hugged. Then she was gone. I sat still on the bench and allowed my pale, bare legs to be saturated with a little more sunlight.

Did I just meet an angel? I thought. A small, feisty, strong, independent, successful, very genuine and caring angel who, yesterday, celebrated her 47th birthday with just her kids. 

I allowed my mind to wander into fantasy. I imagined attending one of Candace’s events, smartly and sexily dressed, swirling a gin martini in my hand and entertaining droves of astonishingly attractive, extremely wealthy, outlandishly smart and genuinely good men. They would all clamor for my attention. I would casually yet humbly inform them how my book just hit the New York Times bestseller list, then hum a few choruses of the songs of the songs I had just co-written. A well-known producer would hear me from across the room, cease his trivial conversation with a couple of over-processed, under-intelligent, too-skinny women and approach me.

“That’s brilliant! Sing it again!”

My entire album would reach funding in two minutes, plus a little extra to help me pay my taxes and buy another dress for the following evening’s event.

Everything happens for a reason. Glad I took a different route home that one Sunday. Thanks, Candace!

But as the sun started to sink a little lower in the sky and the gentle breeze turned just a few degrees cooler, I shook it out of my mind.

Reality: I don’t need a man – or fantasy – to accomplish one single thing I am meant to do. Certainly, at some point, I would like to share my life with a partner. I am a relationship person. I have a huge heart. I may be a fool, but I am not afraid to love, and boldly.

But when I am hurt – when someone breaks my heart – I scream from the rooftops, cry in public, scrawl furiously on the page and fervently compose, because that is how I cope. I share my heart. That is how I heal.

And it’s okay. It’s okay to be human.

My pain has been turned into art. That can only ever be a good thing.

I will love again, I am sure of that. I’m hoping I have at least forty years left on this planet. There’s got to be a “right guy, right time” in there, somewhere. But I’m not worried about that right now. There are far more important things ahead. My job is to to keep riding the momentum that’s just been created.

Candace is right: Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want. Life’s too short to be timid and follow the rules. I’m certainly not going to let anyone take me by the balls. I’m confident. I’m taking risks. And I do believe in myself. More and more, each day.

I’m following my dreams. I can’t wait to see where it all leads me. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s already a success.

*****

Please support me in following my dreams. My goal this year – my fortieth on this planet!! – is to have my book published and have this album recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and distributed. There is no guarantee as an artist, but if anything I have written over the past several years has resonated with you, my hope is that my music will speak to you, as well. Every single contribution certainly helps, no matter what amount.

Thank you.

From the bottom of my heart.

~Leslie

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was harder than I thought it would be.

After ten years on the road I am no stranger to lonely hotel rooms during the holidays. I’m thankful for my good friends — my family, really — out here.

We had a lovely dinner and I went to bed early but was wide awake at 3:30 am, lyrics screaming in my head. I didn’t stop writing until 6:00 am. Who knows if they’re any good? That’s not for me to judge right now. I’m not throwing anything away.

Last heartache, I wrote a book. This heartbreak, I am writing lyrics.

Maybe I’m just meant to suffer. But I will not be silenced. And I will never give up hope.

16th UNiversary

Moments before I walked down the aisle, sixteen years ago.

Sixteen years ago today, I got married.

My dad walked his 22-year-old daughter down the aisle to a majestic organ in a beautiful sanctuary on a hot afternoon. I carefully recited my vows and promised my fresh-faced groom I would love and honor him until death did us part.

I meant it.

The reception was small: held in a petite garden area next to the church parking lot. We served sparkling apple cider and charcuterie from Costco. A jazz band comprised of fellow college students played quietly and a budding filmmaker captured moments on Hi8 tape. Due to the unseasonable warmth of the day, the homemade wedding cake melted before my new husband and I could ceremoniously cut it. He proceeded to smash a piece all over my face, anyway.

There was some confusion over the remaining few hundred dollars of the wedding bill, which caused the last of my makeup to be cried off. We left for our honeymoon in my 1997 Toyota pickup truck; the remnants of the fallen cake streaked all over the vehicle. The back window jokingly read, “Mr. and Mrs. Spencer”.

It wasn’t the wedding I wanted, but it was the best I could do.

We were so young.

Today, the sanctuary has been torn down and made new. The garden has been replaced with church offices, where I spent almost five solid months in marriage counseling after discovering my husband’s infidelity.

The organist recently received a heart transplant, the musicians all have steady, successful careers and the videographer became a widely recognized director and won a million dollar Superbowl commercial contest.

And I am happily divorced.

*****

“It’s not the wedding, but the marriage that counts,” they say. If my wedding was any indication of the sort of marriage that followed, I should have bolted the opposite direction down the aisle at the very first note of the processional.

But I believe in marriage. I think it’s amazing, difficult and utterly courageous to make that kind of commitment to another person. Certainly, I was young. Perhaps too young. But I wasn’t afraid. And when my marriage went to complete shit, I held on and fought for the concept – and the person – as long as I could.

I admire that girl. I’m proud of her.

The person and the girl are now gone. But I do not regret the commitment, if only for the role it played in giving birth to the woman I have become.

So today, on my 16th Universary, I do not mourn the loss of a marriage, but cheer for forgiveness and the freedom that accompanies it. I honor growth, wisdom, vulnerability and true, selfless, mature love.

I celebrate the gift of a second chance.

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Diamonds are a (Divorced) Girl’s Best Friend

A year ago, I sold my wedding rings.

Actually, a diamond is *not* forever.

Actually, a diamond is *not* forever.

Although it was empowering to rid myself of the final remnants of my marriage – the most symbolic token of all – I agonized over the possibility of keeping the diamonds and repurposing them.

Another ring? No.

A necklace, perhaps?

In the end, I sold the engagement diamond to a jeweler for $45.00, and dumped the one I could not sell – a tiny fleck of a Tiffany diamond – into the Pacific Ocean. I decided were I to have diamonds in the future, I would buy them for myself.

*****

A few weeks ago, I performed with Brian Setzer at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Andrea attended the sold-out show, and met me in my dressing room afterward. She presented me with a stunning pair of handmade chain mail earrings, and another gift.

“This is from the Saudis,” she smiled.

For a year and a half after my divorce, Andrea and I designed an entire home for a very prominent family in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I was grateful to have such an exotic job, and the opportunity to work with/learn from one of my best friends. The project was extremely detailed.  There were many times I wasn’t sure we’d meet our tight deadlines. We had to source, purchase, store and ship everything overseas, even down to mattress pads and pillowcases.

I had worked at Andrea’s successful, Los Angeles-based firm since the fall of 2009. She hired me because I was desperate for work. My derelict ex-husband had long ceased his marital duties, including financial contribution. I was on my own.

Last December, Andrea made some major changes to her business. She needed more architects on board, and I was graciously let go. There were no hard feelings; it seemed a natural progression for both of us. The loss of that job was ultimately the catalyst that pushed me out of the nest, and a blind leap of faith into the next chapter of my life.

*****

Two days before Christmas, I opened the little teal bag Andrea handed me. I read the card first, tracing my finger along the etching, “TIFFANY & CO.”

IMG_3786

Dear Leslie,
Your spirit, energy and professionalism made it all possible for us to get the job done. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Love, Fahda and Khalid

I carefully unwrapped the glossy, white ribbon from the familiar blue box, and gasped.

Inside lay a diamond necklace.

Tears welled up in my eyes. It was exactly the necklace I would have designed for myself, even with an old, tainted diamond. I hadn’t admitted it, but I truly believed I would never receive a Tiffany diamond again.

It was at the bottom of the ocean, Titanic-style.

One year later, I have a brand new, gorgeous piece of jewelry I wear every single day.  I cannot help but marvel at God’s kindness and provision. This diamond is shinier, bigger and brighter. This diamond is forever, because not only is it a gift from the bottom of people’s hearts, it is a very personal gift from my Heavenly Father.

He truly makes all things new.

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.

A Shooting Star

It’s amazing what can happen in a year.

A year ago, I started writing The Christian Girl’s Guide to Divorce. I had no goal in mind. For whatever reason, I wanted to tell my story, so I opened up. I didn’t think anyone would actually read it, or even really care. To me, divorce is ugly, yet so common, it’s actually uninteresting. Still, I was vulnerable. I portrayed myself as nothing other than real. Oh, and I exercised my potty mouth. A lot.

One year later, I have (almost) become a published author. In addition, I’ve finally accepted my talent as a writer. Mind you, I have always written, but it was in secret. For years, I wrote stories and hid them. I threw most of them away. I felt silly, writing things I knew nothing about.

Sometimes I still feel that way. Yet I am compelled to write.

Recently, I made a grandiose public announcement about going to the mountains and divorcing myself from society for four days to finish my book.  You see, after I signed the contract with Burnside (who, by the way, I am even more in love with because of this very blog post by my publisher, Jordan Green), I felt it necessary to stop blogging the story of my divorce.

I had to save it for the book.

And so, I made an abrupt transition from writing about the past (upon which I have perspective) to the immediate present, and it has become even more — say, poignant?  Messy? Vulnerable?  Powerful? — than even I can handle. Every post feels like a disaster, yet somehow I know it isn’t.

There is more to the story of my divorce. I’m just interested in living and processing today. I have moved on. I fell in love again, and ultimately lost that love, but I’m still standing. I feel stupidly hopeful. As I’ve continued to grow, I simply haven’t felt like writing about X. The details don’t matter much anymore, even if they are shocking and can capture an audience.

This is a problem, though, because books have to have endings. Admittedly, I feel paralyzed, and I’m not exactly sure why.

Perhaps it’s simply because I’ve placed so much pressure on myself to be good; relevant. I know I have a following (this still baffles and excites me!), and I have to deliver. Yet, suddenly, I feel like a horrible writer. Perhaps it’s just that there is an end in sight, and I may wind up being a one-hit wonder. Sometimes, I am afraid I’ll never get asked on a date again if I’ve penned a book on divorce. I’ve imagined the criticism I will face, especially from the Christian community. I’ve already endured a little bit of difficulty in personal relationships.

I hate to break it to you, people, but if you’re in my life, I’m probably going to end up writing about you. My birthday party last week was hilarious in that most guests ended up meeting one another and exclaiming, “OH!!! You’re so-and so?!  I feel like I know you! I’ve read about you in Leslie’s blog!”

I stood back and marveled at the amazing creatures in my life that took the time to celebrate me. And the conclusion I came to is this: if I write about you, it means I love you.

*****

Back to finishing the book.

Once in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I was overwhelmed with the fresh, clean air; the blue sky, warm breeze, cool lake and familiarity of it all.  My best friend Joy and I have been trekking to Hume Lake every summer since we were children. Her parents own an enormous family-sized cabin that is nestled on a hill, in between the most fragrant pine trees. As kids, we spent countless weekends swimming, jumping off the rock and paddling boats in the lake; riding four wheelers to the point of complete filth and exhaustion; hoping the two cute brothers that stayed a few cabins down would want to ride/hang out with us, and strengthening our bond of friendship, which, to this day, is the most loving, loyal and stable relationship of my life.

Hume Lake

The summer after I graduated high school, I worked at Hume — in the Snack Shop.  It was a horribly crappy job with long hours — definitely not as cool as being a lifeguard — but the people with whom I worked made it worthwhile. Almost every evening, while all other staff members had to observe the 11:00 p.m. curfew, we were closing up. Afterwards, we’d sneak out around the lake, lay on our backs and gaze up at the brilliant stars.

I have never seen more shooting stars in my life.

I was 17 years old. My whole life was ahead of me. Little did I know, I’d leave that summer job early to attend my orientation at U.C. Davis, only to decide that I hated it with a passion and didn’t want to go.  Less than a month later, I found myself registering for classes on campus at Biola University: a last-minute, spontaneous decision that greatly impacted my life. Four years later, I was married.

In 2007, Joy and I began an annual tradition of returning to the cabin at Hume together.  We returned again in 2008, but 2009-2011 were too difficult to take the time away. Joy got married, and I got divorced.

Finally: August, 2012 lent the opportunity.

We swam, jumped off the rock and paddled a canoe across the lake.  We rode the very same four-wheeler, which is now a bit rickety, but relaxed in the hot tub afterwards.  We interacted with wildlife, talked for hours and watched every Jane Austen movie imaginable.  I kept intending to turn on my computer and finish the last few chapters left in my story, but I ended up devouring two books, instead.

I just couldn’t bring myself to write.

One evening, Joy went to bed before me, and I decided to sneak out. I didn’t go far, but it was the first time since 17 years old that I had the opportunity to lay on my back again, and gaze up at the pitch-black sky, which was speckled with dazzling, brilliant light.

Oh, God, I whispered in my soul. This is amazing.  

I breathed in the pungent, sweet air, and heard branches crack below the deck.  The raccoons were out, eating the leftover peanuts, gluten-free pancakes and rotten nectarines we had thrown over earlier in the day.

I kept gazing up at the night sky.

God, would You show me a shooting star?  All I need is one. Prove to me that You are here.  I dare You. Just one.

I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them again, expecting a majestic display of solar fireworks, all because I had asked.

Nothing.

A satellite cruised across the sky, followed a few minutes later by a noisy jet.

Still, no shooting star.

The raccoons finished their snack and waddled off into the darkness.

Come on, God, please? Remember all those shooting stars You showed me years ago? Maybe I didn’t appreciate them as much as I would now. All I’m asking for is one. I know You can do that. No pressure, though. Only if You want to. I’ll just be down here, waiting. Well, until the bears come out. So…PLEASE?!

I started to realize how ridiculous I sounded.  Me, a broken human being, demanding that God give me something just because I wanted it so very badly in that moment. The truth is, I didn’t need to see a shooting star to know God exists. I had the vast array of the heavens twinkling before me.  I just wanted one for the sake of nostalgia; to say I saw a shooting star. Maybe even more so as a symbol that God hears me, loves me, and is willing to indulge me.

I started laughing, and then, to my surprise, tears of thankfulness rolled down my cheeks as the realization (part deux times twelve hundred) hit me:

I’m exactly where You want me to be. I’ll finish this book with Your help. Right now, I just need to enjoy this time with You.

I smiled, and let the remaining tears slide down the sides of my face, then onto the redwood deck. In the distance, I heard another  branch crack, and decided it was time to go to bed.

I stood up and brushed myself off. As I headed back inside, I briefly craned my neck, one last time.

There it was.

It didn’t even last a second. It wasn’t the most brilliant or memorable shooting star I have ever seen, but I’m quite certain I’m the only person in the world to have seen it.

It was for me.

Ack, X and K

Two days after my court hearing, I boarded a plane to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

My main purpose for heading to the Midwest was to reconcile with my long-lost, dear friend, K.  I hadn’t seen her in seven years, and we had only recently reconnected.

K and I had a beautiful history.  At the time I met her, she was in a dating relationship with X’s best friend, whom I shall refer to as “Ack”.  The couple hailed from a small town in Minnesota, and fell in love the summer before their senior year in high school.  After graduation, Ack moved to California to attend Bible College.  K stayed in Minnesota, attended college for two years, and then took a job as a nanny in Massachusetts.

I met K one weekend when she was in town visiting, and we were instantly friends.  We kept up our friendship via handwritten letters (email was a bit of a foreign concept back in those days).  Eventually, K took the plunge and moved to Southern California to be closer to Ack.  She and another girlfriend of hers from Minnesota became my roommates during my senior year at Biola University.

It was 1999.

The other Minnesotan roommate married X’s other best friend in June, I married X in October, and K married Ack nine months later.  We all settled in South Pasadena, just blocks from each other, and our friendship blossomed.

It was perfect.

The six of us were inseparable; unstoppable.  We were newlyweds, best friends, and adventurers.  We were young and had lofty dreams, but we were committed to our marriages.   We planned to take over the world and raise our kids together.  We enjoyed dinner parties, intellectual conversation and Bible studies.  The boys traveled to the Middle East together, for they shared a passion for the culture, and the girls stayed at home, waiting expectantly for their husbands to return.

Eventually, the other couple followed their calling into mission work, where they and their three children still flourish to this day.  Ack and X continued to travel together and found a single male friend to add to their danger/thrill-seeking lifestyle.

In the fall of 2003, K got pregnant.

It was unexpected news, but we were beyond excited.  There was going to be a baby in the mix!

So, the boys took off on a trip to Lebanon.  I accompanied K to her 14-week ultrasound appointment.  It would be the second time she would see and hear her baby’s heartbeat.  I had never seen an actual ultrasound before, and I was ecstatic.

K lay down on the table, and the friendly technician slathered the cold gel across her taut abdomen.  We chatted excitedly as we waited for the image of the baby to appear.  We also bemoaned that fact that both our husbands were gallivanting around Beirut.  It was time for them to settle down.

The technician continued to probe K’s belly for the image of the baby, until – there!  I saw it!  A teeny, tiny, miniature human being.  Totally formed.  Amazing!  I started screeching with excitement.

K lifted her head off the thinly veiled hospital pillow to catch a glimpse of her child.

She looked at the technician, and then at the screen, and said, matter-of-factly, “There’s no heartbeat.”

Silent tears flowed down the sides of her perfect, porcelain cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” the technician said, gently, and turned off the screen.

The rest of the appointment was full of shock and sadness.  Later that evening, K somehow managed to get a hold of her husband.

Ack told her he would come home, even though he and X hadn’t completed their itinerary.   We all later learned that a majority of these overseas trips consisted of partying, dancing, picking up women, kidnapping/dangerous situations with terrorists (yes, true), and God only knows what else.

He made it a few days later, just hours after she had a surgical procedure to remove the dead baby from her body.  Ack promised K he wouldn’t leave her like that, ever again.

Yet, two weeks later, he had already planned another trip.   Ack, X and their single friend traveled to Somalia to chase pirates in the summer of 2004.

K had had it.

And so, through a series of tragic, painful and devastating circumstances/events, K left.

We were all shocked.  Our team of unstoppable six went down to a confused, broken five.  What is worse, we all judged and hated K for leaving the way she did; for destroying her marriage.

I was the most judgmental of all.

I wrote K a massive email and vomited my feelings.  I chastised her and implored her to stay in her marriage.  I tried to wrap it up by telling her that I loved her, and would always be her friend, but it seemed hopeless.

She thanked me for my honesty, and disappeared.

So, the team of feeble five (including single male friend) upheld Ack and helped him through his divorce.  We felt sorry for him, and didn’t really know how to comfort him.  Not one of us 20-something Christian kids could imagine what it would be like to lose our spouse like that.

K was an evil monster who had destroyed Ack’s soul.  Ack clothed himself in all black, and we excused his subsequent destructive behavior.

Eventually, Ack moved in with X and me for a few months, and I took care of them both.  I did Ack’s laundry.  I sorted his mail.  I warded off collection agents who called our house, looking for him. I did my best to comfort him.  I committed to hate K for him.

Ack swore to make women fall for him, just so he could break their hearts.   And that he did.

In the summer of 2009, when I knew something was terribly wrong with my own marriage, I reached out to Ack. He was, after all, a Christian, and my husband’s best friend. 

Do you have any insight on what’s going on with X?  I wrote, trying to conceal my desperation.

I am too much of a girl (emotional, crazy) to figure him out right now. I would appreciate anything you know or have observed; no offense taken at all.

Ack responded. 

He thought we were both selfish, and didn’t understand how our marriage worked.  He believed that we genuinely didn’t have common goals anymore, and hadn’t worked very hard to make each other important or even interesting to one another.  He believed that X was over my whole deal in New York, and I had stopped being interested in X’s life a long time ago.  There was distance, X was selfish, I was selfish, and things didn’t look good from his perspective.  But, ultimately, he didn’t know what was going on.

But he did know.  He knew about the affair, the whole time.  And, one month later, I discovered the truth through Ack and X’s Skype conversation.  They talked candidly about my husband’s love for “UKR”, as if it were the most common, known fact in the world.

Over the past three years, the truth about my ex-husband and the people with whom he surrounded (and still surrounds) himself has slowly, painfully come to light.  The betrayal that I felt in my broken marriage almost seems to have been doubled.  I am shocked and saddened at the massive, seemingly guiltless capability to lie, manipulate, deceive and destroy.

I have joked to close friends that if I ever see one of those boys again, I will cause a large scene.  I will obnoxiously approach him and screech,  “What’s up, DICK?!”

Then I think, What would Jesus actually — not Christianese-commercially —  do?

The answer is, He probably wouldn’t call someone a dick.

Sigh.  I struggle, to this day, with forgiving that cast of characters.

Yet.

When the mask of self-righteousness has been torn from us and we stand stripped of all our accustomed defenses, we are candidates for God’s generous grace.   -Erwin W. Lutzer (1941- )

K reached out to me when she learned of my separation.  We began to re-form our bond in the exact manner as it had begun: through written word.  I was overjoyed to rekindle a friendship that I thought had been destroyed.  When the opportunity presented itself, it only seemed fitting to jump on a plane, even just to hug my friend.

I spent several days with K in her warm, cozy home in northern Minnesota, and cherished every moment.   She has since re-married a wonderful, joyful, patient and loving man who simply adores her.

K and I laughed and cried together as the ugly scales of past hurts rapidly shed away.  The fragrant, yet crisp spring air was full of forgiveness and grace.

New healing had begun.