The War Of Words

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Recently, I have been thinking back to the days when the boys were young. Those were the days and many of them I would never like to repeat. They were stressful with meltdowns and words that took a cruel aim to the heart.

“I hate you” “I wish you were not my mom” “You’re a whiney little jerk” “Mom, he called me a butt.” Those kinds of things. Normal, yes, but the frequency at our house was 100 times what was normal. It was exhausting.

I remember at one point trying to get the boys to think before they said something. Hard to do when you are seven and in the heat of the moment. Hard for me to do now at 55+ and if I am honest; I have never been a model for saying quiet well-thought-out words.

During these early days of chaotic boyhood, a friend once  told me what she asked her kids when the War of Words was going on. I thought it was genius and wished I had done more of it as they grew up. She would ask her kids:

Is what you said kind?

Is what you said helpful?

Is what you said loving?

Often times just by asking these questions I found I could bring a temporary respite to all the chaos. It was a blessing. It taught my kids that words have meaning and repercussions too.

Recently, I was thinking back to those times and I decided that those questions of yesteryear were valuable not just for kids but for me too and I have been trying to be mindful before I speak by asking myself these questions before spouting off. I have also added two other questions to ask myself before responding to others:

Is what I am about to say true?

What is my motivation (honest) for saying what is on my mind?

Admittedly, it is hard for me to remember to ask myself these questions before talking. Often, I fall far short of where I would like to be. But usually, if I just pause before speaking, I can do a quick inventory in my head of the answers to these questions and decide whether my response is:

True

Honest

Loving

Kind

Helpful

 

If what I am about to say is not any of the above; I am trying to learn to shut my mouth and keep it that way. As a person who has shot from the hip most of her life this is a real learning experience for me. A challenge akin to climbing Mt. Everest. It is not easy. It takes a little bit of awareness and planning. But every time I succeed in being mindful I know I am getting to be one step closer to the person I want to be which gives me hope that maybe one day before I die I will master this ability to speak mindfully and to shut my mouth when needed. But somehow I suspect that it might take my deathbed to figure it all out if even then. Yet, I keep trying because I know for the sanity of all involved that when I am kind, loving, honest, helpful, and true I give the best of myself to those who deserve only the best of me.

Amen (so be it)

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Kindness

I saw a THOUGHT today that made me think.

What I saw reminded me to “Be Kinder Than You Have To.”

Wow! Did that struck a chord with me and it got me thinking. How does one Be Kinder Than They Have To?  Are there minimum levels of kindness that are expected? Is there a norm of kindness? Is there a minimum number of times per day that kindness is expected of us? Do we look for it or does it find us? Is kindness based on the intent of the giver or on the perception of the receiver?

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And what does kindness entail, anyway? Is it looking out for “the other” and putting them before yourself? Does it mean handing over your money to someone who needs it more than you do? Maybe it is just recognizing the deeds of others and commenting on them. Or does it mean choosing your words carefully or holding your tongue to the point that it bleeds?

The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. It sounds as good a place to start as any. For me, the being friendly and generous parts are much easier than the considerate aspect. More often than I would like, my voice rings with harshness, or I flip off the driver who cut me off. I slam the phone down on the teller marketer who has disrupted my day for the fourth time instead of just saying “no thank you.” Yes, that being considerate aspect to life is going to get me turned away from the pearly gates without a doubt.

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In an effort to honor the idea of Being Kinder Than You Have To I decided to give myself a reminder list of things that I could do on a regular basis that just might embody that philosophy. Here goes:

  1. Instead of just tipping the restroom attendant also tell her that her bathroom must be the cleanest in the entire city and just how much you appreciate being able to plop your butt down on a seat so clean you could eat off of it.
  2. Keep McDonalds gift cards in your wallet and hand them out to those in need.
  3. Ask your elderly neighbor if there is anything you can do for them
  4. Send your kids teachers a card telling them how much you appreciate what they do for your child.
  5. Spend a couple of hours volunteering at a place that needs one-on-one interaction
  6. The next time someone cuts you off get out of your car and hand them a McDonalds card instead of giving them the finger.
  7. Do your kids chore
  8. Give your spouse a massage.
  9. Give a bigger tip than your server deserved.
  10. Feed the parking meters of others
  11. Bye a big bouquet of flowers and hand stems out to strangers
  12. Shovel your neighbors driveway
  13. Send a text to a loved one giving them an example of why you appreciate them instead of just telling them that you love them
  14. Write a REAL letter instead of sending a text or email. It is something they can hold in their hands and look at when they are feeling down
  15. Hand out balloons to strangers just because you can
  16. Throw out a little extra birdseed to our feathered friends
  17. Each day message a different friend you have on Facebook and tell them what you like about them
  18. Go through and label all those people in the zillion pictures that you have. Believe me your relatives will appreciate it in the future and will nominate you for sainthood.
  19. The next kid who passes you on the street…give him a buck.
  20. Practice biting your tongue two or three times a day.
  21. Make your spouses favorite dinner
  22. When sending your loved ones out into the cold cruel world instead of just saying have a good day go over and give them a big long hug,
  23. Pick up someone else’s litter
  24. Give up your seat to someone who needs it more than you do
  25. A heartfelt smile can do wonders for someone’s soul
  26. Let that mother with the three out of control kids go ahead of you in the checkout line. She just wants to get home and put the little boogers to bed.
  27. Pray for someone if you are so inclined
  28. Put a thank-you note on someone’s car.
  29. Pay for the person’s coffee behind you
  30. Say something nice to the person in the wheelchair
  31. Talk to someone who doesn’t look the least bit like you
  32. Forgive someone and let them know it

 

So there you go. A list to promote kindness is born and in doing so it is my hope that all of us will be reminded to BE KINDER THAN YOU HAVE TO at least once per day. Just imagine if everyone did that what a truly different and exciting place this world would be!

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A Good Book

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I am reading the book Perfume River by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. His words flow like a river during the spring rains…rushing and so powerful that they threaten to pull you under. Yet, Butler also knows how to write as if the river is also drying and receding into itself … the author’s words trickling from the pages in a sparse kind of way like the character who finds himself parched and unable to continue his journey.

As a writer I find it amazing when an author can match the flow of his words with the flow of the story. It’s a rarity, that. Most people can write of feelings and place but show me an author who has the gift of using words to match the tempo of the story, like a composer who pens his first notes for each instrument; well, it is a gift to the reader.

I wish I had the ability to match my words and actions with the tempo of storyline that is running throughout my life. Often I feel that my passion is too intense for the scene or that I fall behind not realizing the importance of the moment until it has passed. Sometimes I find  myself experiencing a momentary loss of words as I traverse this life that is mine. Having my emotions and words match what is going on in life often presents a bit of a challenge and I find that sometimes I am missing the perfect words that would complete the chapter in a satisfying sort of way for all the characters in my life.

But if the truth is told,  seldom is the time that we get to write our own life story as we envision it. Often plots are pushed upon us through no fault of our own and characters we never imagined magically appear. We expect a monsoon but get a drought instead. And as we journey through life we often forget that our words set the pace for what happens next, who we become, and the quality of our relationships that we are in.

So today, let us be mindful of the words we are saying and where they might be taking us. Let us craft our words and deeds like the chapter of a good book. And by thinking before speaking, let us be like that author who knows what to edit out to make the story flow. After all, it is our own personal story so its up to us to make it interesting and something we would be proud to let others read.  We may not get a Pulitzer Prize but we will get immense satisfaction in taking the time to craft a life that becomes our own bestseller.

 

 

 

 

372 DAYS TO FIX THIS

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When I began this blog it was with the intention of blogging everyday for 365 days as I fought to keep my marriage intact. I didn’t because life got in the way. A lot. Life has a tendency to do that when you have a husband, 5 children, a dog and 3 grandchildren.

I purposely decided not to blog about reaching 365 days on the one year anniversary of B telling me how unhappy he was in our marriage and that he might want a divorce. I didn’t want to “celebrate” much less acknowledge one of the most agonizing days of my life. That day, one year ago, was a full of intense pain, enough tears to officially end the drought and it lead to months of increased struggle, anger, and hurt. The “I Think I Might Want A Divorce Day” brought me to my knees and my life changed at that instant. Thirty years of togetherness, memories, marriage and great sex were on the verge of disappearing in a blink of an eye. I am not sure why but on that day I asked B to give it 365 days to fix our broken relationship and with it a blog was born. Six hours later he left for a week to take the boys to scout camp.

Frankly, it was never my intention to spill my guts the way I have; nor allow my anger and dismay to swallow me whole with witnesses along to pick their way through my mess. But I did and it did. I am not really sure what I expected when I started writing but the rawness of some of my early posts bring me back down to earth with a thud. Divorce was for other people. Not me. Damn it.

There are many things that have happened this year that have stretched and surprised me. The major one was that at some point in the past year B and I reversed roles and I decided I wanted a divorce but to my surprise he didn’t. That was an awakening and hurt almost as much as when he said he might want one. Frankly, I didn’t know quite what to do with that. But we both know that with three kids in the house, two of them with autism and other issues that impact our marriage in a big way; that divorce would be akin to picking up tiny pieces of a huge pane of shattered glass and that someone would get cut. Deeply.

I wish I could say I handled all of this with grace. I didn’t. I did however get a therapist whose help has been invaluable. She has taught me to be mindful. To sit with things and let them brew without my influence. We have also been going to joint counseling and B now has his own counselor too so that he can learn to express himself rather than keep things bottled up inside for years.  But the best thing we did was attend a Marriage Encounter weekend. It is what has started us down the path towards healing, understanding and really listening to one another. I am not sure that had we not attended that my blog would count off 372 days. Really, it made that big of a difference. We just had to be open to it even though we are not Catholic and the things were heard were nothing more than what we would have heard at any religious gathering. I urge any of you who are struggling in your marriage to at least consider attending.

The changes I have made over this past year have been accomplished through a lot of hard work and perseverance . At times I have taken one step forward and two steps back. Those steps have been humbling, courageous, and have often felt like I had a huge splinter in my shoe while I was taking them. I have had to do a lot of changing. I used to try and live my life with a guarantee arm-wrestled from others…an impossible task. I try not to do that anymore. The biggest thing I have accomplished to date is that I have stopped yelling. That was a major victory and has changed our family for the better in so many ways. I am now working on trying to remove a sense of harshness from my voice and it is a challenge to say the least.

I have implemented many new ways of doing things and new ways of considering how to occupy my place in the world. This is what I have done that has been helpful for me:

  1. I listen to the Meditation Minis podcast by Chel Hamilton. It’s free and it is only 10 minutes a day. Those 10 minutes have allowed me to decrease the negativity I has feeling in my body and mind and replace it with acceptance and positivity.
  2. Thanks to my therapist I now have a Place Of Mysteries. This is a place in which I put on a shelf things I do not have enough information about so I do not carry them around with me. I then examine them when I have more facts so that I can make intelligent decisions.
  3. I am working really hard on not saying things the moment I think them. I now try to let my thoughts gels before spouting them.
  4. I try to look for the good instead of the negative
  5. I make a conscious choice all day long to CHOOSE LOVE. When things irritate me I CHOOSE LOVE and try to act accordingly.
  6. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to the positive attributes I know that B has instead of jumping to conclusions.
  7. I try not to TIME TRAVEL to the future and the past. Instead, I try to stay in the present collecting the golden nuggets of life that are in the here and now.
  8. I try to think rather than just react and ask for time to do so when more time is needed.
  9. I get more sleep realizing that there is always tomorrow to get things done.
  10. I keep a sex calendar which serves as a gentle reminder that too much time has slipped away since our last loving encounter.
  11. I work on being mindful of what is going on around me and within me. I have slowed down to really think about the ramifications and unintended consequences of what I am doing.
  12. We dialogue every night in the way we learned to do at Marriage Encounter. This has allowed us both to learn more about what the other is feeling and gives us a loving perspective in which to view our mate and his/her actions. Dialoging gives us the time to ask questions and clarify, not just assume what is meant by words/actions.
  13. I have lost weight but not for him. It is for me only and it shows.
  14. I am learning to just sit with things and not try to force a desired outcome.
  15. I am trying to learn to do things with joy in my heart while doing them. After all, the house does need to be cleaned so why not do it with joy instead of resentment?
  16. We try to have a date night every week or so. Time spent with each other without the interruptions of family life has allowed us to look at each other as individuals with unique feelings instead of as just Mom and Dad.
  17. We have a GRATEFUL log that we keep to remind us of all the wonderful things the other has done for us and is useful to pick-up and read when things are a little bit off.
  18. Whenever I feel like I am getting “hooked” I try to take a pause and relax.
  19. I have come to realize that life is not static. We are fluid beings and as such things will change. I don’t have to stay “stuck” in a particular way of acting or doing things especially when it is causing me or my loved ones harm. I am sowing seeds everyday that will blossom as suffering or joy depending on how I plant them and care for them. I try to keep this in mind as I interact with others.

So a year as come and gone. A year in which I did not get divorced or separated although we came close. A year in which we both worked hard to improve ourselves and our marriage. It has been a lonely year that has been frightening yet also enlightening. We have had to expose our own vulnerabilities as we have attempted to open up to one another in very deep and personal ways. And as painful as it has been I am grateful for it because I have become a better person, a better partner, and a better mother because of it. I have grown and become a better me. A person I am proud of and a person who is more comfortable in her own skin. And I have a marriage that is better than I believed would ever be possible. Does this mean that in 365 days I was able to “fix this”? Heck no. Does this mean I have a perfect relationship? No. Does this mean we will be together forever? I think the opportunity for that has increased tremendously but I no longer try to look for guarantees because there really are none for this type of thing.

What I do know for sure is that once again B is at camp for the week and this time when he left my heart was filled and my brain was quite. For this time around, I have a confidence in myself  and a belief that together we can conquer those things that are holding us back. Things may not be perfect but they are getting better everyday and that is really all you can hope/work for. But perhaps the most important thing is that I am happy, really happy, and sometimes even joyful. I am becoming who I want to be as I enter into my mid 50’s and discover what it is that is really important to me and what I can leave behind.

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So thank you for sharing this journey with me. I am sure there have been times you have wanted to kick me in the ass. I am sure there are times where you would have liked to have screamed “WAKE UP.”  But believe me I have felt your loving arms wrap around me and hold me close when there was no one around to do so. And for that I will be eternally grateful!

 

Forgiveness

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Tonight it was my turn to pick our dialoging question and I chose one to address something that has been weighing heavy on my mind. It was a difficult statement which forced nothing less than that kind of down-on-your-knees honesty and a period of tough introspection on my part. The statement was:

Please forgive me for ______________.

As part of a married couple, I think that way too often we just expect to be forgiven for our misdeeds because, well, isn’t that what you are expected to do for someone you love? Too often we ask for forgiveness without stepping into our love’s shoes and trying to image the pain we may have intentionally or inadvertently caused them. Too often we expect to be forgiven when we have not taken the necessary steps to repair the damage we have inflicted. Yet, when we really stop to consider what we have done and ask for true forgiveness we find it harder than we ever could have imagined. Why? Because we  have to really look inside of ourselves, examine our motivations and sit with the various hurts that we have caused others by our actions. It is tough slogging-through-the-mud kind of stuff.In addition we often fail to:

  1. Consider how our actions were responsible for the feelings invoked in both parties
  2. Think about why we did what we did and then take responsibility for it
  3. Examine how our past has influenced our present day behavior and in order to do better in the future we have to unpack the past.
  4. Recognize our actions as continuing pattern of behavior and then evaluate if it is serving us and our loved ones well
  5. Notice how our actions may have led to a reaction from our spouse that is justified under the circumstances; but then turn around and use their reaction to justify our own less-than-stellar behavior

I have to confess that I often find asking for forgiveness to be difficult but not for the reasons you might think. I find it difficult because by asking I am risking that the other person may say “No I don’t forgive you.”  Or I might have to change. In addition, by asking for forgiveness it forces me to examine those parts of me that I do not enjoy recognizing in myself which then forces me to abandon the luxury of blaming my spouse and instead I have to look inward…which is not always an easy place to go.

Asking for forgiveness is scary. Asking for forgiveness is humbling.Forgiveness takes practice. It is an art. Yet, asking for forgiveness by our mates is also necessary so that we can forgive ourselves and move on. For it is only in moving on that we can become all we were meant to be.

Please forgive me for_________. It is the only way to start.

 

Love Letters

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Recently someone contacted me (after finding my family tree on a genealogy site) saying that they had found a box of letters from 1912 from my 2nd Great Aunt (I’ll call her Mary) to her then boyfriend who later became her husband. She had three boys from an earlier very bad marriage and in stepped (I’ll call him Ned) to love and cherish her and the boys. Not many men would have had the heart or the courage to take it all on but he did and I know that Mary and her sons were blessed to have Ned in their lives for another 51 years.

There are about 40 letters in all and they are courtship letters. Mary and Ned were separated at the time by two long train rides from one another and they were trying to find a way that they could be together as a family but things were hard and there was not a lot of work where my Aunt lived, so Ned went to the “Big City”  to look for work. One of the bonuses of these letters is that my Grandfather is mentioned in them twice. He was about seven at the time. In one her letters to Ned, Mary says that my grandfather said to her son, “Do you think that man is going to marry your mom?” He replies “I reckon they might.”

Throughout all the letters there are pronouncements of practical love and a few glimpses of passionate love too. In one letter my Aunt talks about what might happen if they were to work together and says, “But if we do you have to promise to keep your hands off of me while at work!”

These letters are nice reminders of how early in relationships we do our best to impress, to praise, encourage and to believe in the possibilities that lie ahead. I think that is often missing as marriages mature and the letters have reminded me of just how important those kinds of gestures are in everyday life. Mary and Ned’s belief in their love and their future together is strong and its an overriding theme throughout their writings. It was important to them to believe and celebrate what they had and what they had found in each other. It’s some thing I want to rediscover in my relationship too.

Ever since B brought up the”maybe divorce” I have had difficulty celebrating what we have had, what we do have, and what we might have. Yet, as Mary and Ned have shown me celebrating a relationship and each other if important. It is a must do and it serves a much needed purpose to foster love and a sense of connection. So I have decided that if I want B and I to be a couple, I have to live like we are a couple and act as if we will be together forever. I have to believe in the possibilities that still exist for our marriage if this relationship is to survive. I must:

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Trying to Maintain Dignity & Grace

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Its hard. No doubt about it. When you feel so wounded and so hurt not to lash out. Not to want to say “Stop being an asshole!” over and over again. To not to want to destroy or implode the last vestiges of your relationship or something that is meaningful to the two of you.

It would be very easy for me to get in a “bad” place very quickly right now. A place I would not be proud of in the future. But I know that it would only serve to heap more shame, guilt and sadness on a plate that is already filled to the brim with it. So instead, I am trying to focus on acting with intentional dignity and grace. I am trying to use words that embody dignity and grace. I am trying to act in ways that show my love for myself, my family and B being mindful to incorporate these ideas into my actions. For instance, a small petty way was when B gave me a chocolate bunny for Easter yesterday and instead of taking a hammer to that damn 5,000 calorie creature I thanked him. So while my thoughts may not always be inline with my thinking regarding dignity and grace I am trying to  be mindful and change them too. Thanking instead of hammering. Acting elegant instead of spiteful.

I am trying desperately to remember that no matter what happens with this relationship, the truth is that ugliness, bitterness and anger will do nothing for anyone. And it won’t make me a better person. More importantly it will not make me feel better about who I am and will certainly steer me away from the person I have been trying to become. A more peaceful person. A happier person. A person who loves what is in front of her and not wishing for something more.

So even though B may not see a future together and even if there is no future to see I have to believe if I act with dignity and grace then it will allow the good stuff to come to me and to be seen by me. And that is what I need right now and in the future. I want to be mindful and happy with myself and I want to minimize regrets. I want to see the beauty that is all around me. I want to feel the softness of soft feelings and actions even though things feel angular and hard right now. I want my heart to be open to possibilities so that I can make decisions out of love for myself and not out of anger and confusion.

Dignity and Grace. In fact, I like them so much that I might just go get a tat. I have never had one and could never find anything that I would like enough to permanently place on my body. But maybe these are the most important things for me to remember especially now. Dignity and Grace.  They are my new mantras and just maybe my new ink.

 

The Doctor Is In…316 Odd Days Or So To Fix This!

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According to my Grandmother, in order for a relationship survive there must be a lot of give and take. I admit, I do more than my fair share of giving…advice that is.

Sometimes my advice is golden:

“Learn to adapt”

“Invest in quality pieces, they never go out of style.”

“Just go ahead and do your own thing. It won’t matter after you’re dead. Just don’t hurt anyone else while you are doing it.”

“Don’t compare or else the grass will always look greener from where you stand.”

But more often than not I find my advice sounds somewhat like this:

“If you do X then X will happen,” (da-da…insert evil music)

“Don’t have sex with her unless you can see yourself waking up to her for the rest of your life”…which is valid but not always helpful at the time.

“If you would only take out the trash we wouldn’t have ants”

“You should have listened to me and this never would have happened.”

Recently, I had noticed that my commentary was full of If’s and Don’ts and Should’s. In other words, I often used these if’s and should’s unintentionally as word grenades; words which when said warn the unfortunate listener that something more is coming and it usually isn’t good. They are just “pull the pin and toss” words that can have near lethal effects on a person’s soul. Words which imply that the person is lacking in some way or has failed in some sort of duty owed. While I have used these grenades on others recently I have realized I have used them consistently on myself during negative self-commentaries that came to prance through my mind from time to time. Usually the word should figures predominantly in those head games I play with myself.

“You should have…”

Frankly, I think the word should be banned because it is a word that sets a person up for a lifetime of regret and self-flagellation.

“You should have…”

Lately, I have been working on decreasing the amount of should’s, if’s and don’ts in my vocabulary. Instead, I have tried to replace them with “feel good words” like… please, could you, and it may be better if…

And it is working.  As I use gentler words my family does too infusing a sense of calm in the atmosphere of my mind and in our home.  Best of all, I find I am turning into a kinder gentler woman … a Glenda the Good type of person who helps to remind me that “There’s No Place Like Home, There’s No Place Like Home, There’s No Place Like Home!” and I finally believes it.