Thirty-Nine


Here’s a picture of me working out at the gym. Isn’t it great? I’m all sweaty and don’t have makeup on. I didn’t even hold the camera up at the right angle. Gasp! But I’m still posting it so I can prove to you, social media-infested world, that I care about my body and body image.

Guess what?

I have been aware of my body and body image ever since I was told I was fat at the age of ten. The dieting started in high school. When I got to college, I gained the typical freshman fifteen, only to lose it that summer. I gained and lost, gained and lost. Right out of college, I worked as a Production Assistant/Assistant Producer at a prominent television news station and was told I should lose weight to guarantee future work.

That would not be the last time I would hear that statement.

After having been married two years, I joined Jenny Craig and lost 20 pounds in six weeks. Once I hit my goal, I quit the program but was terrified of gaining any weight back. I became obsessed with exercise and counting calories and managed to lose ten more pounds. My friends were worried about me, but I scoffed at them. I was finally skinny!

Yet, even at my lightest weight and smallest size, I wasn’t happy.

So I became a fitness instructor. I loved it. It came naturally to me. I had energy and athleticism and people flocked to my classes. I once spontaneously ran a 5K without training and placed third in my age category. I walked into the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and joined the Masters Swim Team without having any experience. I was good.

But I still thought I was fat.

Enter divorce and the divorce diet. Weight loss is inevitable because you are so emotionally fucked up, eating is the last thing on your mind.

And then people validate it.

“I’m so sorry your husband cheated on you and became a bigamist, but oh my GAW, you look FANTASTIC! Are you working out more?”

Nope. Just starving myself because it’s the only thing I can control.

When my divorce was final in 2011, I traveled to Paris with one of my best friends. We ate delectable food, drank amazing wine, rode bikes all over the city and I kissed random Parisian strangers. It was the highlight of my life during an extremely dark time.

But part of it was overshadowed by fear and anxiety. I was slated to open a show almost immediately after returning from my vacation and I lost sleep because I was worried about not being able to fit into my costume.

That is so unbelievably fucked up.

When I moved back to New York in February 2013, I slowly started to gain weight. This was due to a number of reasons, including the drastic change of weather, lack of exercise, stress and eating too many hors d’oeuvres off the catering trays while trying to make ends meet. I missed teaching fitness classes, terribly. One chilly evening, I randomly met up with an old boyfriend who told me I “looked hotter than ever.”

Maybe I’m not as fat as I think I am!

A few months later I was told – again – I needed to lose weight for work.

I was devastated, but immediately joined an expensive weight loss program. I shocked my body into submission. I ate one small meal a day and “supplemented” the others with what was basically overpriced Slim Fast shakes. With exercise expediting the process, the weight fell off in less than a month. But it came back with a vengeance once I returned to eating any normal food, at all.

*****

I just finished a grueling-yet-satisfying tour. Despite it looking carefree and glamorous, road life is extremely difficult. You eat whatever you find, sleep where and when you can, and if you are lucky enough to have an hour to yourself before load-in and sound check, you’re too exhausted to even think about getting on a treadmill.

It all adds up. And when you start to see unflattering pictures of yourself on stage, you are the most aware; embarrassed; judgmental; the harshest critic. It isn’t the angle from where the picture was taken. It’s you.

Oh, my god. I’m so fat. 

It’s a voice in your head you battle daily; almost hourly.

Enter social media news feeds, infiltrated with bikini and workout selfies (you’re welcome for adding to the mayhem!); your already-thin friends squealing about their new and improved lifestyle change, how magic and delicious their brand of overpriced Slim Fast is. On top of seeing old photos of yourself from ten years ago, raging PMS-style annoyance and a gaggling of unfollows, it simply makes you feel bad.

But you’re done with the expensive crash dieting. You know what works. It’s about balance. It’s about burning more calories than you consume. You already exercise. You just have to step it up. And that doesn’t mean jumping around like Jane Fonda at home. Run faster, longer, harder. Lift more often. Cut more calories. Eat more vegetables. Drink more water.

Remember that any lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s simply about balance. And balance should be authentic and consistent.

*****

In four days I will turn 39 years old.

Do you want to know a secret? Despite being at my heaviest weight, I AM THE HAPPIEST AND HEALTHIEST I HAVE EVER BEEN IN MY LIFE.

So I’ve decided to do something new for my birthday this year.

I’m going to love and accept myself for exactly who I am, at WHATEVER SIZE OR WEIGHT I AM.

Who I am is not about what I look like. At all. Ever.

My physical body is bikini-and-beach-ready now, because it functions. And well.

I am a beautiful person. I have a good heart. I am loyal. I love freely and fiercely. I sing and write pretty damn well and I have great legs.

Just because I like to eat doesn’t mean I am fat. I don’t need to look like you, my roommate, other singers, an Olympic athlete, or some random celebrity that we will inevitably end up body-shaming, anyway.

I’m going to be me.

Because I’m fucking awesome.

Lillian

Day Six, Hour 72 of captaining/catering for ‪#‎TechCrunch‬. Forgetting it was in the back pocket of tired black pants, my almost-year-old iPhone took a swan dive into the toilet bowl.

In a flash, I rescued it from “clean” water, but I knew the end was near. I didn’t have time to be upset.

I had to get to another catering gig.

When I got off the train somewhere on the Upper East Side, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for myself. I thought about how hard I have worked this past week, to little personal and financial gain. I began to spiral down the rabbit hole of self-pity, realizing the last-minute pee I needed before a double shift will most likely end up taking more than my entire paycheck.

Yes, I shoved the phone into a bag of unfairly-New-York-expensive, low-quality rice, but let’s be honest: Siri sounds like Barry White, I somehow ordered an Uber ride to Nantucket and Google Maps thinks I’m still married.

Too exhausted for tears, I waited in silence to cross the street. The little old lady standing next to me spoke.

“Miss! Miss! Oh, Miss? Can you help me, Miss?”

I was almost late to my second job without any way to communicate, but I couldn’t leave her hanging. Besides, it was nice to take my mind off my champagne problems for a hot second.

“Absolutely,” I smiled. I offered her my left arm, praying her seemingly frail health wouldn’t be too terribly affected by any residual toilet juice.

Together, we began to hobble across 67th and 2nd. The two plastic bags she carried swung from side to side and occasionally brushed my leg.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” I chirped.

“Yes, it is,” she replied. “My knees are shot, but I am glad I chose today to get outside.”

“I understand,” I said. My own feet throbbed, swelled and ached inside of my supposedly orthopedic catering shoes. The veins in the backs of my legs screamed, and I had long noticed a not-so-fresh-smell under the arms of my black shirt.

I glanced at the woman and guessed she was at least 80 to 85 years old.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Lillian,” she replied. The red-handed warning light began to flash, despite us having traveled only a quarter of the way across the wide intersection.

I gasped. “That was my grandmother’s name! I’m Leslie. It’s so nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you.”

Lillian shot me a half smile and returned to putting one foot in front of the other.

When we finally reached the curb, Lillian released her grip on my arm and clasped her arthritic fingers into mine. I noticed the curvature of her bones, marked by brown spots and broken blood vessels in odd places, and the fleshy, soft, delicately translucent feel of her skin. She gazed up at me as she patted my hand.

She took in a deep breath.

“Well, Leslie — ”

This is it! I thought, excitedly.

If I had been on my phone this whole time, I would have missed this very moment. I helped a little old lady across the street and, in return, she’s going to give me some piece of advice, wisdom or encouragement. This is the best thing that’s happened all day!

With raised eyebrows, I grinned at her, expectantly.

“Yes?”

Lillian looked me squarely in the eye.

“Have a nice life!”

The Invisible Thread

Tomorrow, I will have been officially divorced for five years.

That’s half the time I was married.

If you want to get really technical, the official date of separation was March 1, 2009, which means I have been single for seven years. The majority of my 30s – supposedly my prime – have been spent without a partner.

Weird.

Inadvertently, I scheduled a bikini wax on my divorce-versary.

*****

Recently, I received an email from a reader who builds pianos in Norway. She shared pieces of her story and how my blog had challenged her thinking. She encouraged me to keep writing (thank you!) and asked me a question.

What do you think…even if you’re doing great, even if life is really good and even if you know it (you are way ahead of me in the process there) …even if you’ve healed and you truly know that…will the pain hang around maybe for the rest of your life? Not constant, but apparently still there and ready to pop up? Do you experience that? How do you deal with that? Could you blog about that?

Besides input about divorce as a whole, it seems everyone has an opinion about the divorce process: how long it will take to heal; how long you should wait to start dating again; to what degree you’re fucked up (and over!); what you should and shouldn’t be doing to get over it.

Perhaps the obvious answer is, it’s different for everyone. Divorce is not as clean, quick and relatively painless as a professional waxing strip. Why do we assume recovery will be? I believe every divorced person experiences the five stages of grief, not necessarily in linear fashion.

It simply takes time. But time doesn’t heal all wounds.

Divorce is like a death — perhaps worse because the other person is still alive! And to think that person who loved, accepted and married, then wounded, rejected, abandoned, abused, angered and/or betrayed you moves on and is happy…?!?!?

Some days I’m outraged by the injustice of it all. Other days I am so relieved to feel nothing but apathy for my ex-husband. Many days I completely forget any of it ever happened.

I think it’s safe to say if I weren’t writing and editing a book on divorce, it might just slip into the back of my mind as a mildly interesting fact about me. I don’t burst into tears over having to choose which marital status box to check anymore. I no longer use the “D” word as part of an introduction. I don’t feel judged or like an outcast; I don’t feel undateable. I’m still fairly annoyed by blissfully naïve and happily married couples (especially the ones who give each other back rubs in church), but I’m not threatened by them. For whatever reason, I have remained single. I think I’m okay with that. For now.

Most of all, I don’t feel like my marriage – or I – failed. I simply did the best I could, then moved forward.

A couple of years back, my therapist mentioned that certain wounds could only be healed in a relationship. I have had a few post-divorce relationships over the last five years. And, to some degree, I have felt like a complete disaster in all of them. Something inevitably happens to trigger my insecurities and fears and I get jumpy. I want to run away as fast as I can before I get hurt, realize he’s just not that into me, or – scariest thought of all – discover there’s another woman in the picture.

But when paired with the right kind of partner – one who is steadfast, kind, patient and unfazed by my version of crazy, I regularly experience – and affirm – the truth.

I am healing in relationship.

*****

What about the lingering pain, threatening to well up at any moment?

Twenty years ago, my college roommate lost her younger brother in a freak accident in his woodshop class. On the anniversary of his death, their mother, Bonnie, posted a beautiful tribute. I was moved by her honesty and wisdom.

I admit, sometimes I need to be on the road; to feel the pain of grief; to mourn the loss of my precious Scott. I know that when I am there, on the road, when I allow myself to truly mourn, that is when the God of all Comfort brings peace to my soul. You see, time does not heal all wounds. It is what one does with the time that heals all wounds. Grief boxed up, stuffed down, ignored or denied, only festers and seeks a way out. It is what we do with our grief over time that heals.

You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t experience grief over your loss from time to time. Like the chicken pox virus, it will probably remain dormant within you. But it doesn’t necessarily have to take over, nor will it be so visible. Acknowledge it with kindness. Don’t judge or ignore it. Experience it, even if it hurts like hell. Reach out to those who love and support you and ask for help. Stop pretending you’re okay when you’re not.

And in those moments of vulnerability and surrender, authentic growth and healing can take place.

I would never compare equally the death of a child to divorce, but they are both losses, nonetheless. What do we do with the loss of our spouse, identity, home, family, friends, pets, dreams, children, hope for children, etc.?

We fight, cry, pray, scream, grieve, despair, experience, run from, numb, run towards, stand still, spin, question, answer, learn, discover, laugh, try, try, and try again.

And the thing that keeps us going is the invisible thread of hope.

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. ~ Romans 8:24-25

 

Ma’am Versus Miss

After two days of writing in my pajamas under frozen, grey skies, I decided to shower, apply red lipstick and patronize the new restaurant that just opened downstairs.

“Ahhhh! It’s great to be here!” I declared to Shane, the bartender, as I removed my puffy jacket and slid my tight-legging-clad-ass onto the barstool. “I’m taking a break!”

“From what? Kids?” He smiled.

My mouth fell agape and my eyes widened.

“Kids?!?!?! What?!? No! Do I look *that* haggard?!!”

I shrugged and sucked at my teeth.

“I’m too old for kids, anyway,” I said.

He turned pale.

“So…what would you like to order, Ma’am?”

I wiggled my freshly pedicured toes inside their studded, heeled boots.

“UHHHMMMMM, you can call me ‘MISS’, not ‘MA’AM’! Dear God!”

Shane looked me square in the eye.

“You just told me you’re too old to have kids and now you want me to call you ‘Miss’? I’m failing here. Help me out!”

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.

Tagged , ,

Today

I went to the gynecologist for an ultrasound today.

I’ve never had an ultrasound before, so I was actually excited. I got undressed from the waist down, left on my purple, cheetah print socks and laid on the table.

The technician entered the room, gave me a big smile and got down to business.

“It’s going to be cold,” she kindly warned, as she squirted blue gel all over my belly. She pressed the handle firmly onto my lower abdomen and peered at the screen.

“Let’s see here…oooh, okay!” she exclaimed. “I want to take a closer look.”

Me, too! Me, too! I screamed inside.

She lubed up a condom (yep!), placed it over a very large, long wand with a camera at its end, and inserted it into my body.

I took in a short breath.

“Well, having a camera shoved up my vagina is certainly an interesting way to start the day,” I joked.

My technician smirked.

“I’m going to switch over into 3D mode,” she said, as she maneuvered the camera like a joystick. She pressed buttons on the keyboard, took some pictures and printed out a few. I lifted my head to catch a glimpse at the screen, to no avail.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of a heartbeat.

“Wow! That’s amazing!” I gasped, as tears formed in my eyes.

“I’m going to move over to the left side now,” the technician informed me. “Sorry if it’s uncomfortable. It’s going to be a bit noisy again. I want to check blood flow.”

“No problem,” I replied, and continued to crane my neck towards the screen. The sound of the heartbeat was getting louder; faster.

I heard the printer again. More pictures.

And then it was over.

She left me in the room to get dressed. Still pantless, I grabbed the phone from my purse to take a snapshot of the images left on the screen.

There, I saw it: my 38-year-old uterus. And what I suspected was growing inside of me for quite some time.

Fibroids.

*****

I’m not the first – nor last – childless woman who will deal with fibroids. They’re pretty common, mostly harmless, and don’t actually cause infertility. I have dealt with lady parts problems for years, first dating back to age 16 when I had an ovarian cyst rupture in the middle of my AP History class.

Embarrassing and excruciating.

But no one really knows I deal with this stuff because I’m strong and brave and can endure all kinds of shit. Right?

Not today. As soon as I left the doctor’s office, I burst into tears.

“It isn’t fair!” I cried out loud, as I stomped back home amidst a sea of yellow cabs and groaning fire trucks.

“The first time I have an ultrasound is supposed to be because a baby is growing inside of me, not some possible cancerous shit!” I sobbed. “I should hear two heartbeats, not just my own. My body was made to do this. And it isn’t happening. So why do I still have this desire to have a child and be a mom, God? Why won’t You take it away?! It’s just cruel!”

Funny thing: God’s silence is more deafening than any New York City street corner.

I quickly burrowed down the rabbit hole of self-pity and anger. My thoughts immediately turned to my ex-husband.

“Why the fuck does that guy get to have kids and not me? What did I ever do to deserve this? Mr. Peter Pan Syndrome cheats on me, finds an older woman with money, marries her while he’s still married to me and has a baby a year later, while I’m still mopping up my bleeding heart from our stupid, dragged-out divorce? Where is the justice in that? How is that fair, at all? Why does he, of all people, get to be a parent and not me? I would be a great mother!”

On and on goes the narrative.

I wish I could paint a better picture of myself in the moment, but I got angry. Upset. Frustrated. I’m sad. And I mourn the loss of the children I probably will never have.

I know I’m not alone. So many people – not just women! – have walked this path.

But it’s not about X. He’s just a cheap and easy target. In fact, I’ll bet he’s a great dad. I always saw that potential in him. Hopefully having that sweet little baby in his life will help him mature and ultimately become a better man. I certainly hope he is a better husband to Sister Wife than he was to me.

You know that super annoying verse in the Bible where Jesus addresses the “life is unfair” business?

But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? ~Matthew 5:44-46

That’s the one that gets me, every time. It’s almost like Jesus is saying, “Listen, people. Quit whining. Life isn’t fair. You know why? Because we don’t always get everything we want this side of heaven. Also, I love everyone, not just the good, obedient, loyal soldiers. I love the people who have hurt you. You should probably get to work on that, too.”

There Jesus goes, being all Jesus-y, perfect and shit, speaking truth that cuts straight to the heart.

So, no, I cannot be angry with X. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s a good thing he and I never had children together. I have a clean slate. I get to live a re-written ending. A better ending to the story of my life, in that I have already experienced deeper, truer love with a partner. Additionally, I hope to have learned how to forgive and accept life for what it is, not what I want (or wanted) it to be.

As Sara Bareilles sings,

It’s not what I asked for
sometimes life just slips in through a back door
and carves out a person
and makes you believe it’s all true.

I really don’t want to be that jaded, sad, bitter, jealous woman in her late thirties who gives up because she got a raw deal due to life and circumstance. I refuse to marinate in the delusion that I deserve everything I ever wanted. But there are some days I cannot stomach the unending social media newsfeeds of happy, smiling, couples in love. Partnership. Marriage. Babies. Marriage and babies. Marriage, babies and more babies. Marriage, babies, more babies and puppies.

Guess what? Marriages and babies aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Marriage is hard. It’s disappointing. It can easily crumble, without anyone even realizing it, until it’s too late. Child-rearing is not without its own set of harrowing difficulties. All babies grow up. Some leave the nest too soon, and others don’t leave soon enough. A lot of cute babies turn out to be real assholes.

Just give me a puppy.

The bottom line is, we’ve got to put our hopes, desires, faith and identity in something other than today’s wish list.

This is where I’m glad God is God, and I’m not. I’m ridiculous; just a speck on an atom of a molecule of humanity. With uterine fibroids and — as I discovered later today at the eye doc — astigmatism in both eyes.

What I do know is that my life is really good. I love it. Focusing on what I don’t have is an obnoxious waste of time. Why not focus on what I do have? Why not try putting my hopes, dreams and desires in the God of the universe? This life is too short to hold a candle for one small detail, as opposed to what is possible in eternity.

Today I’ve been given talent and a chance to do what I love. Today I have an absolutely mind-blowingly amazing man who understands, loves and accepts me for who I am. Today I have a joyful, healthy life and a gorgeous, cozy apartment in New York City. Today I am reminded I have beautiful friends and family who are real and true. I always have love, and therefore life, coursing through every fiber of my being.

Because of grace, I have another chance.

And that is more than enough for today.

Long Board Guy

I enjoyed some beach time this afternoon. Now that I am officially 38, I have religiously subscribed to bathing suits with underwire, sunscreen with an SPF no less than 70, oversized beach hats and sunglasses, supportive chairs (to feign flat abs from all angles), an obnoxious, Hamptons-style cover-up, and, most importantly, a juicy self-help book.

As I sipped on sparkling water and settled into my early afternoon reading, I couldn’t help but notice the powerful swell and number of surfers in the water. The guys were catching waves left and right, carving the shit out of them. If they happened to bail, they did it with grace and flair. No soft boards, no kiddie boogie boards. The water wasn’t gentle. Today’s ocean had zero time for beginners.

And then, I saw the guy on the long board.

He was right there with the rest of the young, wiry, quick short boarders. He would paddle strong and hard into a huge wave, get up and drop down its face with ease.

Having been around surfers, the surfing industry and actually surfed myself (not well), I understand the key to staying on your board is to get up quickly and stay low. Balance is most important. If you stand up too tall, you will immediately wipe out.

But Long Board Guy did something I had never seen before.

As soon as he was up, he stood stiffly erect. Then, he opened up his arms as wide as possible, arched his back and slowly turned his chin toward the heavens. It was the most beautiful posture I have seen on a surfboard. One of full, complete surrender.

I held my breath and thought, “If this guy doesn’t fall, he is the best surfer I have ever seen in my life.”

And, of course, the law of gravity immediately sent him plummeting forward, face first, into the crashing, aggressive white water. If the ocean hadn’t been so loud I might have been able to hear his entire torso slapping on the surface. I almost ran in after him to make sure he hadn’t broken his neck and drowned.

But he popped right up, fought and paddled his way back to the outside and did it again.

And again.

And again.

He held the same posture each time he got up: arms open wide, back arched, chin up.

And each time he fell.

After each fall, he got right back up. He kept surfing.

And I found myself cheering for him. Admiring him. Beaming. Applauding every time he fell and got back up. I totes felt his stoke.

After a while, Long Board Guy was finished. He got out of the water, smiling, and trotted over to his towel.

I glanced back down at page 19 of my book.

“If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability. When we commit to showing up and risking falling, we are actually committing to falling. Daring is not saying, ‘I’m willing to risk failure.’ Daring is saying, ‘I know I will eventually fail and I’m still all in. Fortune may favor the bold, but so does failure.” ~ Brené Brown, Rising Strong

When I looked up, Long Board Guy was gone. I had wanted to tell him he was physically living out the words on my page, but perhaps that moment was meant only for me.

It was obvious Long Board Guy didn’t care about he outcome of riding the wave; he just lived in the moment. And each moment added up to another moment.

And another.

And another.

And they were all joyful, brave, vulnerable and full of grace.

I now know Long Board Guy is the best surfer I have ever seen.

Thirty-Eight.

I did it. I had another birthday.

With each passing year, I have become more aware of how precious and fragile life truly is. We make mistakes. We fall. We get hurt. We recover. Shit happens to us. We feel a loss of control over our circumstances. We beat ourselves up over not being perfect: size, shape, friend, lover, parent, role, career. We want to turn back the clock and have a do-over — sometimes at entire decades.

Yet we wouldn’t be who we are today without those mistakes; circumstances; wounds; scars.

A good friend recently told me, “The etymology of character comes from the Greek word for ‘scar’. That’s what gives us character.”

I very much believe in living life to its fullest. This means falling at times. What is more: learning how to fall. It also means being brave. Living in the moment. Accepting grace. It means loving and being loved.

I have been overwhelmed this birthday by how loved I truly am. On Saturday night I was surrounded by family and close friends who purposely sang “Happy Birthday” as loud and off-key as possible. (They know me so well!) Yesterday I floated in the ocean, rode my bicycle, savored homemade cuisine and rocked an impromptu living room karaoke party with the neighbors.

It has been the best birthday, ever.

I do not know what tomorrow holds, but I am ever grateful for my life and the amazing love I have in it.

Beer Margaritas (And Some Other Things)

I had a very realistic dream last night.

I found myself standing in the middle of my beautiful, very empty home I owned during my marriage. The wood floors were glistening. All that remained were X’s belongings – mostly books.

I immediately wanted out. It was scary and frustrating to be back in that place.

“I should probably call my mother-in-law,” I said to myself, “and she can take care of X’s stuff. I have to get out of here.” But I didn’t know her phone number.

Cut to me at the AT&T store, discovering I had been charged for X’s phone bill all these years.

“I’m not paying for him anymore! I am ON MY OWN. That is the beauty of divorce,” I preached.

The dream flashes to me unwillingly driving to the in-laws’ house for dinner. When I arrived, the whole family was there. I said hello to a scarily tan version of my sister-in-law and gave her a hug. I noticed the spread on the table: fried chicken and beer margaritas.

BEER MARGARITAS?

“Hmm. They’ve grown,” I thought to myself, as the in-laws have always been teetotalers.

I reluctantly sat down as my mother-in-law asked me how I was.

I hesitated. I truly haven’t wanted those people to know anything about my new life. But I spoke.

“I’m dating a really wonderful man. And I’m happier than ever.”

And then I woke up, kind of wanting a beer margarita.

*****

I haven’t been writing much lately. Even though the old cast of characters occasionally haunts my dreams, there isn’t angst over my divorce anymore. I also feel like I haven’t anything profound to say. The truth is, I am dating a really wonderful man. And I am happier than ever. The relationship is not without complications (which one is?), but it’s real and so good.

My therapist was right: “There are some things that can only be healed in relationship.”

Ironically, and with respect, I would have never chosen this for myself. It just happened. In fact, I tried to avoid it at all costs. But the more I allow myself to relax into it, the more I learn. And I am experiencing how relationship can and should be. There’s a beautiful, vast difference between dating in your early 20s and your late 30s. I kind of wish I could go back in time and have a do-over. But I wouldn’t be who – or where – I am today.

The greatest (and perhaps hardest) thing I have learned is marriage and family is not the pinnacle of relationship. I think I have accepted the fact I will probably not have children. Rather than panic about this (and believe me, I have had many nights over the years shedding mascara-laden tears on my pillowcase), I choose the opportunity to be in a healthy relationship over a checklist of things I want in my life.

I sometimes want to scream at single women who are holding out for these things. Especially Christians. Relationship is hard. You will get hurt. Stop the delusions. No one will ever fit your ultimate checklist. Fuck Jerry Maguire for saying, “You complete me.”  Ain’t gonna happen. Be a whole person, yourself. And for crying out loud, Let Jesus be Jesus, instead of some guy.

Live your life! Don’t hold your breath! Jesus did not come to earth to wave his magic wand and grant us spouses and children. Having those things is wonderful, yes. But it isn’t the beginning, completion, purpose or meaning of life.

Funny: I used to think the only way to “get back” at my ex-husband for cheating and getting married before we were divorced (it will always be funny!) was to find a new, improved husband, push out some adorable babies and show them all off. I now know such thinking is wildly immature. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I wish the church would stop placing marriage and family on a pedestal. Just because I am unmarried and childless doesn’t mean I have failed.

In fact, there are a whole lot of amazing things I can accomplish without a husband and kids. I get to be “Auntie Leslie” or “Crazy Auntie Leslie” to so many beautiful children. I get to travel – sometimes spontaneously – and sing for a living. I am fortunate to live in New York City, with Central Park as my front yard. I get to experience and love people without being distracted by a screaming toddler or a hormonal teenager. I can empathize with the hardships of being married, divorced, single and dating later in life. I get to experience the world without certain responsibilities, and I’m okay with that. Because I’m not alone.

Some of the greatest people I know are those who have lost. A spouse. A child. A sibling. A job, or jobs. Money. Their marriage. Their home. Their entire identity.

It’s not the losing that makes them great, it’s how they’ve dealt with it. And when they choose to trust Jesus and move forward instead of spiral down the rabbit hole of feeling sorry for themselves for the rest of their lives, they become changed.

Jesus said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26a)

I am no theologian, but I see this verse with very different understanding than when I memorized it at AWANA in 1985, and robotically regurgitated it at Biola University in 1995.

Whoever loses his life for me will find it. To me – and maybe I’m completely wrong – this is about placing my complete identity in HIM, instead of my idea of what life should be because I followed the rules.

It’s taken a long time, but I’m pretty sure I have found a new self. She isn’t anything like I envisioned, but I really like her.

Friends, whatever you are facing, remember we have the opportunity to choose Jesus in our losses. In our suffering. In our waiting. In our disappointment. In our pain. We have the choice to trust Him, despite life circumstances not turning out how we want.

It’s not easy to trust, but I have a feeling it is totally, completely worth it.

Beer margarita, anyone?

Wow.

Every so often you receive the encouragement you desperately need. This email from a stranger made me weep. Wow.
*****
Dear Leslie,

I stumbled upon your blog right just after my fiance broke off our engagement, so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I cannot pretend to know the depth of pain and confusion you went through, but I certainly resonate deeply with everything you have written. So I want to thank you.

Thank you for being a beautiful soul who can see the irony and poetry and humor of life, despite how shitty everything can be. Thank you for following your passion and refusing to sacrifice one tiny bit of your soul for the Christianese Equation. Thank you for not walking away from God!! Thank you for continuing to have adventures. Thank you for letting Jesus work in you; His light in you shines further and brighter than you can ever realize. Thank you for trying again (and again) at love; you give me courage to try as well. Thank you for being honest about what does and does not suck. Thank you for being funny and creative and talented and for having good grammar. Thank you for writing with such poignant imagery. Thank you for having friendships that sustain you. Thank you for not just walking the path you’ve been given but skipping and dancing down it. Thank you for crying and raging and swearing when the load is heavy and the scars ache; you give me permission to not always be “fine” or “nice”.

You are (and I’m weeping as I write this) an exquisite treasure: a masterpiece of God’s creation. You are grace in my life. You are radiant beauty. You have been a cup of cool water in a long sojourn through a dry desert.

Thank you for allowing me to journey with you these last 2 years. I continue to pray God’s mercy and grace rain down on you, just as they pour out of you.

~ Your Sister in Christ