Monday, February 19, 2018

Remnants (of a Former Life)...

I wish I were a poet.

I am sadly not a poet in the least, tiniest little bit. My words form in paragraphs. I talk too much, I write too long, I ramble to get to my point.

I envy people who can take a few words, a sentence, and sum up what it takes me a mountain of words to write.

(All of that is to say, I wish I could sum this up in a few simple words. But such is not my lot in life.)

This past month-the irony of this very long month of February-I have allowed myself to let go of some of the very last vestiges of who I used to be. On the one hand, it feels lovely to let go. To stop trying to fit inside of a mold that used to feel like a second skin, but that now feels like a pretend world. On the other, change is hard for me. (I'm sure that's fairly obvious.) I like for things to remain the same-it's a comfort to know what to expect.

At the beginning of the month, the girls and I sat down and had a very sincere discussion about what we want to continue to participate in, and what we are ready to say goodbye to. Soccer, dance, piano, track, and Girl Scouts made the cut. Which means that this year we are not going to be participating in 4H or cheering.


Being the cheer coach was the last little remnant of my former life.

When life fell apart, some bits fell away quickly. Others took much longer. I had to almost immediately stop being the Girl Scout leader and the Cloverbud advisor and the room mom. It felt like chopping my arm off-but there was no getting around the fact that these roles took a certain amount of free time that I no longer had.

Being the cheer coach, however, that I held onto.

That summer-that summer that is blessedly missing from most of my memories-that summer of upheaval and sadness and crazy, out of my mind grief-that summer, going to cheer practice and fairly much just watching in something of a stupor while Kayla did most of the work-it gave me something to do. Some reason to get up. Some very vague notion that someone needed me.

The next summer I was on my own. Cheer still gave me a sense of belonging-a sense that even though I could no longer be the mom involved in all the things, I could still hold onto this one piece of my old life.

Eight and nine year old girls do not know that you are just barely holding it together. They don't know how broken you feel, how unperfect and alone-they just know that you are their coach. That you call out the cheers. They hug you goodbye and give you a love that you are completely unable to give to yourself.

I will forever treasure those girls. Even as we move into a new phase of life.

I know that it's healthy to move into this new phase of life. My life with my girls is so different than it used to be, but I'm happy with the changes. "New Mom" (which is what they call this version of me), she is mostly a lot more fun-she says yes more often than no, and she has a better understanding of just how lucky she is to have these two girls who love her in spite of her many flaws.

All of this twisting and turning and changing, some of it feels amazing and wonderful and like the best thing that has ever happened. Some of it is scary and sad and overwhelming. And sometimes it's all of those things, all at the same time.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

Friday, February 2, 2018

You're So Vain...

I think that possibly planning is my love language.

I know technically that's not a love language (my real love languages are acts of service and quality time) but planning is definitely my thing. My favorite thing.

I love color coding, label makers, really great pens (Pilot G-2 07 are my favorite), Erin Condren, Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks...I could go on, but you get the picture.

It has also been brought to my attention that I follow a really rigid schedule. I can't really emphasize enough that I do that for a reason-setting tight boundaries around my days helps to calm my natural tendency toward anxiety. Knowing what is ahead is soothing, even if it's just my morning schedule of coffee, devotions, workout, shower, and makeup.

I have always been this way. My mother has told me many times that when I was little, if she just said to me, "Joy, put your shoes on, we're leaving," I had a meltdown. But if she told me, "In ten minutes we are going to leave," I was perfectly fine.

Is it any wonder that I fell to pieces over my world being turned all upside down 2 1/2 years ago?

So, anyway, I like to know what's coming. And for the most part I can control that-my morning, my job, the girls' schedules. But stepping into this world of dating-that I can't control. It has me a bit freaked out.

Here's the thing-I have never, ever done this before. Nick and I went on just a few actual "dates" and then moved in together. Until the divorce, I thought nothing of that. We were in our early twenties, with few real responsibilities, going about creating a life together the way that we assumed everyone did. It simply did not occur to me to even question the pace at which falling in love happened.

So, fast forward 15 years, and Nick leaves, and I spiral down a dark hole, and spend tons of time grieving and healing and I have finally emerged into a place of sheer joy and contentment-and there is a part of me that just wants to stay there, you know? I like me. I'm perfectly capable of taking myself on a great date-I have no problem going out to the movies and to dinner by myself. I enjoy my own company.

But there is a part of me-a part of me that frankly I have pushed away for most of my life-that enjoys attention. It's hard for me to admit-if you know me at all, you know that I'm normally most comfortable hiding in a corner-but I can't lie that I do enjoy it when people compliment me on my looks. It's not something that I'm used to-I was never the girl asked to the dance when I was in high school. Looking back, I don't think that I was all that different looking then, I was just really shy and uncomfortable in my own skin. I think-I hope-that what people are responding to when they say I look nice is the fact that I have at least a slight confidence in myself anymore.

This week I uploaded a bunch of pictures to my Facebook page because I wanted to delete them off of my phone to free up space (Betsy has since shown me that all of my pictures are backed up to the cloud, and therefore this was completely unnecessary), and I somehow uploaded a picture of me in my personal favorite dress, which is also very short. Too short, my mother thinks. Somehow Facebook must have put it on the newsfeed and as of my writing this, it has 43 likes and rather a few comments (all blessedly nice).

Now, on the one hand, I hate for anyone to think that I am so vain that I would post such a picture of myself. But on the other, 43 likes for one picture is sort of a nice compliment? And if you have seen this picture, and do indeed think that my skirt is too short, well, then, you have good company in my mom.

My point with all of this blather is this-this whole dating thing is like posting a picture times a thousand.

After all, just because I like my own company, it doesn't mean at all that anyone else will.

If you know me well, you know that I over think every single possible thing in my life. I analyze and fret and worry to a ridiculous degree if someone likes me. I have a terrible tendency to want everyone to like me, and I know that isn't possible, and even that there are people who do indeed like me but who don't necessarily love everything that I do. And that's all normal, completely normal, and it is not healthy to tie myself in knots over things that I cannot change.

In my Bible study we are talking about taking time to rest, to stop, to contemplate. My mind keeps focusing on the Israelites, wandering around in the desert, being granted the miracle of manna from heaven but only as much as they needed for that one day. Every day they had to trust that that manna would be there. If I had been an Israelite, you can bet that I would have laid awake every night, worried that maybe tomorrow the manna wouldn't be there.

Trusting this process-this process of turning myself inside out and figuring out who to be and how to be and why exactly I'm like that and hoping that eventually somehow someone will come along who thinks this bundle of anxiety and insecurity is right up his alley-it's hard.

It's hard but it's important. Much as I like my own company, there are times when it's lonely. When I remember what it was like to have someone to talk to, to hang out with, to laugh with. And so that is the road that I am electing to take, much as these next bends scare me.

Someday, I tell myself, I'll look back this road and realize that all of these curves were leading me right to wherever it is that I belong.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Etymology of a Heartbreak...

It's time to pivot.

This blog has been my solace, my voice, my hope in a sea of grief and loss and abandon. It's no secret that the end of my marriage was beyond the most difficult period of my life. The complete tailspin of grief that came after- this blog has become a record of that. Reading back through some of the posts from the first year after the divorce is painful to me now, knowing how hard that girl I was then was trying to hold it together and be positive in the face of this obstacle that seemed the size of a mountain.

January 14, 2016:

I wish I had some sense of direction, some sense of what the heck I'm doing. Trying to convince myself that this won't always feel so heavy and all-encompassing. It's hard to imagine how this ends.

There remain bits of my divorce that I don't talk about on the blog. There are pieces of my grief that lie only with my sister and my therapist, and there are huge chunks of this process that remain on pieces of paper that only exist for my eyes, and perhaps one day for the girls.

February 2, 2016 (the day before my divorce was final):

Please let this be a beginning-a good beginning. A hope, a peace. I pray that for you, dear Joy. I pray for good to come, amazing things you never even knew you wanted or needed. And that you read these words with a smile at the joy you realize only with hindsight that you are about to experience.

My children watched me fall apart. I rocked their already shaken world to the core. It breaks my heart. I can't take it back, I can't do anything other than heal. I hope that I have shown them that as sad and broken as I was, I have managed to grow and learn and create this new life for us.

I know that grief doesn't actually end. It shifts and morphs and becomes a part of who you are and what you present to the world.

April 13, 2017:
Life is so much bigger than me and my melodrama that only lives in my head. And yet, and yet, and yet...whenever I hear bad things, this is where I go. This is the hub around which all of my understanding of pain swirls.

That will forever be true.

It will also forever be true that I am grateful to be divorced. There was a time when that wasn't true, when I honestly believed that I was never going to genuinely feel happy again-when I believed to my soul that there would always be this hole in my heart that no amount of tears or anger or smashing dishes (at the suggestion of my therapist) would ever be able to heal.

But heal it has.

I'm not saying that I'm completely cured by any means. But I do know that I'm at a place where it no longer pains me to say that I'm divorced. Bit by bit I have released that feeling of shame that I carry over allowing my marriage to end.

January 16, 2018:
Life is so much better than it ever was. That's a blessing, Joy...if you had planted your feet and refused to move, none of these blessings would have been able to move.

And so, we pivot. We have indeed reached the bend in the road. The grief is still there, wound inside my bones and blood, as real as anything I've experienced. But it's purpose has shifted.

There are pieces of me lying inside of all I have written, seen and unseen. My goal moving forward is to embrace all of this joy for what it is. I want to continue to write my truth, but from this new perspective. From a heart changed and shifted, from a hope I honestly thought I might never hold again.

This new bend is scary and unknown and glorious.

"So this is what the truth feels like
This is more of what I had in mind"
-Gwen Stefani

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Love is an Abyss...

I used to believe in soulmates.

Honestly, deep in my bones, I believed that there was one person in the world that was created as basically my other half, the person that would bring out all of my best qualities and make me a more interesting person.

I called him Joe Garbarini.

Joe Garbarini was, of course, a character in a book that I read my freshman year of high school. He was a cool, motorcycle riding, Shakespeare loving, Catholic Italian boy, who naturally fought all the time with Debbie Lesley, the spoiled, rich girl whose parents divorce necessitated her becoming a waitress at the restaurant that Joe's family owned, The Heartbreak Cafe. Never fear-all of the verbal sparring was merely foreplay for the genuine feelings of love that Joe and Debbie discover for each other by the end of the six-book series.

Naturally, I am Debbie. Especially when I was a geeky 15 year old who hadn't quite grown into my nose (I know, I still really haven't grown into my nose).

In any case, Joe Garbarini held my heart for 6 years while I waited for whoever it was that my soulmate was going to turn out to be. For a dorky, shy girl who desperately wanted to fall in love but who had not the slightest clue how to actually go about making that happen, making up a romance in my head was as good as it was going to get.

In reality, I'm still pretty head over heels for Joe.

This is where all of my blog posts tend to delve into the shattered pieces of my marriage and how I haven't the foggiest idea how to move away from that person that I used to be crazy in love with. But that's not exactly where this one is going to go.

No, this blog post is actually about The Time Traveler's Wife, which is my favorite book that I have read as an adult. The main plot of the novel is that Clare has known her husband, Henry, basically her entire life, as he is a time traveler and has appeared to her since childhood. When Clare finally meets Henry in real life, he is this young, twenty-something boy pining over a lost love.

The plot obviously goes in many different directions than just that, but the reason that I love it is for that single point alone: she has been in love with this man her entire life, and when she meets him, he is not the man that she loves. She has to wait for him to grow into the man that she adores. She has to patiently bide her time while he grieves the loss of another love. And he is constantly leaving her, not because he wants to, but because that is the hand that fate has dealt him.

It's really no wonder that this resonated so deeply with me, reading it for the first time while my husband was deployed to Iraq, a 23 year old boy at the time, me a 24 year old military wife, thrust into a life of decisions I was ill equipped to make, buying a house all on my own, trying mightily to pretend that I wasn't scared out of my mind for a million different reasons.

I've thought a lot about that girl-that 23 year old girl who knew nothing what she was doing but who had grasped onto the idea that Nick was her soulmate, and that was her lifeline-everything else could fall to bits but she knew to the depths of her soul that Nick's jagged edges fit inside of her broken pieces and so everything would be okay.

Honestly, when you begin your marriage there, is it any wonder I fell so far apart at the end of it?

I carry these girls inside of me still-the 15 year old me with the pretend boyfriend, the 23 year old newlywed, the abandoned 36 year old woman-and I wonder what that idea of a soulmate even means.

What I do know, what I was telling myself the other day when I finished a book that reminded me of The Time Traveler's Wife and therefore started my mind down this particular rabbit hole-I know that one of the best things about who I am now is that I have no expectations of that. Falling in love-as all encompassing and amazing and wonderful as it is-is only one small part of what it is to be someone's soulmate. In truth, it's about understanding that someone is coming into your life with all their own baggage and experiences and hurts and joys, and perhaps, they will provide solace for your own hurts and joys.

It's nothing and everything more than that.

Last time I saw you
We had just split in two.
You were looking at me.
I was looking at you.
You had a way so familiar,
But I could not recognize,
Cause you had blood on your face;
I had blood in my eyes.
But I could swear by your expression
That the pain down in your soul
Was the same as the one down in mine.
That's the pain,
Cuts a straight line
Down through the heart;
We called it love.
-The Origin of Love

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Let the Words Fall Out...

I'm trying something slightly new this year: I'm not making a "resolution" for the new year.

My resolutions have always been more geared toward changing some aspect of my life for the better (and yes, that always involves reading) but this year I decided to take a different tack.

I adopted a word.

I heard about this on the Elise Gets Crafty podcast (I follow EliseJoy on Instagram and enjoy her immensely, despite the fact that she is the craftiest person ever and I am most decidedly not.)

Elise chooses a word every year, and this year her word is reach, as in getting out of her comfort zone.

I loved that idea, but I wasn't jazzed about that word. In typical Joy fashion, I pondered and wrote and bounced the whole idea off of someone who looked at me like I was loony, and I just couldn't figure out what I was wanting to say.

I wanted to say that I want to try new things, that I want to keep proving to myself that I can do things that I completely believe myself incapable of doing, I want to fall on my face and pick myself up and do it all over again.

I want to figure out how to work at this job that I love, and come home to my kids and not just collapse to the couch, but somehow still be that mom that used to occupy all of my time. That's a hard one-the girls are getting older, and while we still have so much fun together, they are completely resistant to the super fun games of clean your room and let's see how many vegetables you can eat.

I want my family to understand that I love them, that I am well aware that they make my life possible. I want to make time to spend with my friends, which has become somehow more difficult as our children have aged, which makes no sense but is still true.

I want to keep clearing out my house, shedding all of these things that we have somehow amassed, and be able to actually feel that my home is a sanctuary of things I love and cherish.

I mostly want to feel such joy in my life, I want to feel like every day is full of fun-there was such a stretch of my life that felt like existing without feeling, because feeling was just much too overwhelming-and having finally shed that weight, having embraced that grief for the healing and grace that it brought, and feeling like there is finally a new bend in this road just ahead of us-it's a bliss that I don't want to take for granted.

So, finally, after all of the overthinking that I do about everything, I came up with a word to encompass all of that.


That is what 2018 is going to be for me. Brave. Every time I think that I'm going to look like a goon, or that I'm scared because I don't know what the heck I am doing, or that I'm overwhelmed by the idea that I am the only adult in my house, I am going to be brave.

I spent the past two years living, growing, and blessedly thriving through something that took me to my absolute nadir. The next bend in the road may be full of roadblocks, but so be it. 2018 is going to be glorious. Or not. But I can promise, it's going to be full of new adventure.

"She was brave and strong and broken, all at once." -Anna Funder

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Seriously Purple Prose...

Love is elusive for me.

Always has been.

I fell in love for the first time at the age of 21. The preceding years of my life had been mostly a panic that no one would ever find me attractive. I had a romantic's heart coupled with a completely nerdy, homebody life-I was as shy as could be, I rarely spoke to anyone in the four years that I was in college (my professors being the one exception), and all I wanted in life was to be swept off my feet by some boy who could get past all of my awkwardness and see that Cinderella underneath.

All of that happened. Which is amazing. But true.

So, when my marriage crumbled at my feet, my natural inclination was to panic again. After all, it had taken 21 years for someone to succumb to my awkward charms the first time. Now I was older and grayer and still ill at ease in most social situations.

I have wavered in the past two years between being completely certain that I will never fall in love again, and being completely certain that I absolutely must fall in love again for any of this to make any sense. After all, I tend to reason with myself, surely this happened because the true love of my life is still out there, making his way to me? Sure, we both got waylaid, me by a marriage and children-so heaven knows what could be holding him up? Family, distance, maybe he's been mauled by tigers in India-literally anything.

And then of course I waver back to the understanding that I have with my brain, that I am never going to fall in love again, and that I am going to just shut down that part of my being, and therefore I need never again live through the agony of being abandoned by someone that I trust with my life.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

I have grown fond of saying, "I'm open to falling in love again, but I'm not looking for it."

That's, of course, easier said than done. What on earth does that mean? I think that I want it to mean that I totally want to fall in love but I don't want to do anything that might suggest I lay my feelings on the table to be hurt. It's not possible. I can't only have all of the upside of being in love without any of the possible negative consequences.

My head and my heart are battling it out to see who wins this fight.

What is my point with this particular post? Well, someone just recently asked me how it's possible to figure out when is the correct time to start dating again? (I know, it scares me too, that there may be people in the world who think I have actual insight into these things, as if I have any idea what I'm doing.) My answer for that is for me, figuring out if I want to go out with someone, if it's worth my time or, more importantly, if it's worth whatever sliver of my heart might go with it, it's a very organic process. I have figured out that I really have to get to know a person, and for me, that is done in real life and not over the internet. (Mind you, I know people who have met their spouses on the internet and they are perfectly suited. So I'm not saying it can't work, it just doesn't for me right now.)

I'm just a bit too damaged to trust anyone very easily. It complicates things a bit.

Figuring out the pieces of me that remain from this divorce has been such a time consuming process. So even though I do worry endlessly about falling in love again, and how it would work, and what it would look like on a practical level, ultimately none of that matters.

What matters in the end is that I'm content with who I am, in love or not.

Two years ago, at our Christmas Eve service, all I could think was that there was a huge hole where Nick belonged, that the girls and I would feel the loss of his presence forever. How would I ever just move beyond Nick? And this year I had a realization that our family has changed and morphed to the point that it no longer feels like someone is missing.

It's a sign that this dented, damaged heart of mine is healing.

"Every word, every lover's sign we make has been made before."
-The Lover Speaks

Monday, December 18, 2017

My {Favorite} Year, My {Least Favorite} Year, My Year...

2017 is not going to end up being my favorite year ever.

That said, it is not my least favorite year ever either. (No, 2015 takes that prize.)

As always, I read a lot, listened to more music and podcasts than I properly know what to do with, watched my fair share of movies, and very little television as compared to years past. 2017 is the year that I learned to make peace with my limitations, the year that I began to recognize that making time to marinate in things that I enjoy is just as important as my never ending list of tasks to be accomplished, and to accept with two hands the grace that I have been granted through not one ounce of my own doing.

First, two articles to set the mood:

The Ultimate Best Books of 2017 List

Literary Hub has graciously done all the math in rounding up all the best books from the book lists for 2017. Since math is most definitely not my thing, I am appreciative. And proud to have read at least a few of the top books of 2017.

7 Stages of End-of-the-Year Reader Grief

This article from Book Riot is me. The end of the year is a whiplash of emotion from I can't believe I didn't get to this book, and that book, and of course this book, to my inevitable reassurance of myself that next year I will read all the books. I am Linus, quite convinced that next year I will meet the Great Pumpkin.

That said, here's a list of things I loved from the year 2017:

Best Books:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Hands down, my favorite book of the year.

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. About a topic I love, of course, but told in such a way that I am still mulling it over.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Not technically a novel from this year, but I read it in February and loved it so, so much.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. So many feelings about this book. But I would recommend it.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. One of those books that 8 million people recommended to me, and I read it and was not blown away until the very last page, and then I set it aside and my life changed.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins. So much better than Hawkins other book. So I'm sort of grading on a curve.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. Finished this over the weekend. So good. Still rattling around in my brain.

Best Podcasts:

The Popcast with Knox and Jamie On Wednesdays, I popcast.

What Should I Read Next? with Anne Bogel Of course.

The Rewatchables I love, love, love the You've Got Mail episode.

Literary Disco Pardon me while I crush so hard on Rider Strong.

On Being Every week, this is a gem.

The Daily I start my morning with this and Up First from NPR every week day.

The Lazy Genius So good. And she gave me the best turkey recipe, thus saving Thanksgiving.

Best Movies:

Baby Driver

Wonder Woman

As far as new movies that I've seen this year, that's it. I really want to see Dunkirk, Ladybird, and Call Me By Your Name. I'm not a real fan of sci fi or comic book movies. It has made my movie list shorter every year.

2018 will be an even better year, Charlie Brown. Quite possibly the best year ever. Or at least, probably not the worst. We will hope.