Island Couples

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I’m taking a bit of a risk with this post. I don’t typically dish out a lot of relationship advice, but here’s something I’ve been chewing on lately: Island Couples.

Island of boring

Island of boring

I regularly have to practice the discipline of getting my head out of my own sand to see what is going on around me. Many of us live in isolated, compartmentalized worlds. It’s hard not too. I guess it should be no surprise then that island couples exist. You know the ones–pairs of people creating a “perfect” world for themselves as if they live on a deserted island.

I know how comfortable it can be to spend 99% of your time with that special someone. Chemistry is a powerful force. We all know couples that have tried to live solely on the high of emotions and sex, never creating a depth to their union. In the beginning it can feel so right and good to do that, and hey, a honeymoon phase is natural, but one that lasts indefinitely probably isn’t.

Please understand. I’m not attacking healthy power couples or couples made up of two extreme introverts. That is not the point here. But I have to confess that talk about being completed by another person or worse–teaching young people about finding “the one”–makes me a little crazy.

I know. This a blog written by a divorced 40-something. True. But, I have learned a few things along the way, and as I get closer to merging my life with someone these days, writing this is an important reminder even for me.

So if you really love the person next to you, and you are hoping for a long shelf life in your relationship, just consider this a warning flare.

He cannot be and she cannot be your all and all. Don’t kid yourself and think that you have a healthy relationship when the two of you no longer (or rarely) hang out with your friends individually. If you haven’t called your best friend (your new romantic partner doesn’t count) in weeks or months, that should be a sign to you. If you have decided that you really don’t need to see family that often even though they were a big part of your normal life before you started this relationship, pay attention.

And if you’re one of those couples that single people can’t stand to be around, that should be a sign too. It might take a little bit of work and acute awareness on your part, but you shouldn’t be ostracizing your other friends who haven’t found a special someone. If any of this feels a bit too familiar, it may be time to get off the island.

There is a reason why community is important. That phrase, “it takes a village,” is not just for raising children. It’s for raising a good, healthy, long-term relationship as well.

When I was young and married, one my big failures centered around a lack of intimate community. We didn’t have community close enough to us. When we went through the hard stuff, we kept it to ourselves because we were too embarrassed to let the world know that things weren’t going perfectly. We didn’t turn to other couples or our single friends when we needed them the most, and we certainly did not turn to family or our church.

It is one of my only regrets about the way I handled the dissolution of my marriage. I really wish I had let people be closer to us so they could help us through. I know it may have all ended up the same way, but I have to believe we would have felt more supported and that we might have learned some marital lessons faster if we had only stopped living in isolation.

Here are the things: You will get sick of her crap. You will be disgusted by one of his habits. You will eventually (believe it or not) want some time with someone else. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s really good. Find the people that support you and love you both as a couple and as individuals. Lose the negative people in your life and find some new friends and new couples to hang out with if you need to, but don’t be an island.

When I think of islands, I think of warm tropical breezes, happy little umbrella drinks, good food, and great friends–the kind you like to travel around the world with. And the bonus? Well, the bonus is that awesome someone is there to be a part of the scene, an addition to the friendly, supportive community that is all around you.

Get Naked

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Tomorrow I have to get naked. I have to bear all to my dermatologist. Again. On August 15, 2014, I walked into my dermatologist to hear the news that my ugly mole was one of two things. Of the two possibilities, melanoma was the only recognizable word I heard.

A couple of days later I got calls on my cell phone and my work phone. Messages had been left on both. I only needed to listen to the tone of one of them to know what I would hear when I called back. My biopsy results confirmed I had melanoma.

I had been taught for years to check my breasts regularly for lumps and inconsistencies, but no one ever told me to regularly check my skin. I only noticed the changes in the mole on my leg because it was on the front of my body. I didn’t remember it always being there, and as a regular runner with sun exposed legs, I eventually was curious about having it checked.

Love the Melanoma Research Foundation!

Love the Melanoma Research Foundation!

Back in 2013 my regular physician didn’t think it was anything to worry about at my annual physical. One year later, he wanted me to see a dermatologist. I put the appointment off until a work and family trip to Scotland and England was over. Finally honoring the appointment and within days of my daughter starting high school, I found out I had cancer.

No one wants to hear the “C” word. Everyone who has wonders about everything all at once. Is it localized, or has it spread? What stage is it in? Will it kill me?

It is strange looking back on my year since that diagnosis, surgery and the declaration a few weeks later that I was cancer free. In many ways that time and the strangeness of it all still feels very new; it is not a distant memory for me yet. Everyone else may have moved on, but with this new appointment and the regular check-ups, I’ve had a consistent reminder of my cancer.

There are things that changed me and my world a year ago. I was reminded of the importance of taking care of myself. Sometimes that is a skill we have to relearn. I know a lot of people that face extreme guilt over taking “time away from family” to exercise or other life-giving good habits, but we all have a lot to live for and health is often taken for granted. You are important!

My relationships changed. With some people there was a sudden distance. I don’t mean to be critical, but some friends checked on my progress basically through Facebook and nothing else. This made me think about all of the times that I click “Like” on a prayer request or a need instead of picking up the phone or driving across town to be present.

My spiritual life changed. I was aware of my need to be cared for in community, and I found out what that meant. That reality in turn affected some life decisions going forward about the type of spiritual community I want to serve and be a part of on a regular basis.

I learned once again about the long arch of grief and how life feels unfair sometimes. So many friends and family celebrated my recovery and cancer-free diagnosis in September, but I struggled with why I was spared or dealt with a relatively easy case of the disease when other friends or family members of friends were dying.

My energy is different. With all of the challenges of surgery, financial hurdles, and emotional drains, I was forced to slow way down. A year later, I can’t say I’m operating at 100% (in any of those areas), and that surprises me. But most days I respect where I am, and I can be at peace with the fact that my personal pace has changed.

Getting naked a year ago saved my life. In a month, I will celebrate my first anniversary of being cancer free, and my aunt who also had melanoma is celebrating 11 years of being cancer free. Through my circumstances and telling my story, several close friends have had pre-cancerous spots removed. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. Suffering is not wasted.

Now it’s your turn. Be courageous. Love yourself. Love those that love you. Don’t wait. Go get naked.

For more information, visit the Melanoma Research Foundation.

Starry Hope

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A kitty had gone missing. It said it right there on the big hinged door hiding our closest dumpster as I threw out the week’s trash. I always ache for someone who has lost a dear pet. We live near a small wooded area with nice bunnies and deer but also coyotes and feral cats. You don’t want to lose a highly domesticated animal in those woods.

But I recognized the fluffy Siamese on the flyer. She had been lying in the grass on the hill the other night when I came home. And my daughter saw her curled up under a pine tree the next night around 10pm.

I quickly dialed the number and told the owner what I knew. She was pleased about the sightings, and through our conversation realized the pine tree we saw her under was just outside her fenced patio.

“It seems she knows where home is if she is that close,” said the owner. “That’s good.”

I told her I wish I knew more to help her, and that I had called to give her some hope.

“That’s what her name is, Starry Hope.” Great name: Starry Hope.

“I’ll be sure to call to her if I see her again,” I promised.

I missed the conjunction, but I managed to get this beautiful shot.

I missed the conjunction, but I managed to get this beautiful shot.

That same evening, I tried to take a picture of the evening sky. It didn’t work. There was a beautiful moon sliver with bright Jupiter near by. But by the time I got the dogs walked and got back outside to take a picture, the stars and the moon had disappeared behind a haze of thin clouds.

If you are a stargazer at all, you may have been tracking on the beautiful display Jupiter and Venus have put on for us in recent weeks. The two planet’s conjunction as they appear very close in the night sky has been compared to a similar event about 2000 years ago—the Star of Bethlehem.

A different type of starry hope, the Star of Bethlehem was a sign, and for some, a confirmation of an ancient promise. In our instant gratification culture, it is very hard to imagine generations of people hanging on to hope for so long.

I have been wrestling with hope for several months. Last June, I felt a true leading to go in a particular direction in life. While seeking wisdom on where and how I should be serving as I was struggling to make a living, I was challenged to trust and move forward on a completely separate more personal issue.

I was a bit confused, but I soon settled my heart, hopeful and ready to take the next steps. I knew that practically I would need to wait until after the summer to take action. Then in August, I was facing a surgery and the complication of financial changes. It wasn’t long before a mountain of challenges were in the way of  the path I was so sure I was supposed to take. As time marched on into spring, my hope was dwindling and doubts were creeping into my head. “What exactly had I heard in June last year?”

I began asking because honestly, it felt like I said “yes” to a scary, exciting, ginormous answer to a deep question and then the universe decided to play a big joke on me. And every time I prayed or sought God over the whole painful thing I only got silence. Not hope. Silence.

The conjunction of Jupiter and Venus won’t appear again until August 2016, but the signs for Starry Hope came down off of the doors of our dumpster a couple of days after my call. I can only assume the best: Starry Hope had found her way home.

This lost and found cat and the reminder of that ancient promise that was fulfilled are in a weird way teaching me to get back in touch with hope.

The road is longer than I expected, but sometimes these days, I feel like I know where home is, like I am so close.

And that is good.

I want you to meet someone…

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When I first moved back to Tennessee, I had the fortune of meeting some cool friends who would invite me out from time to time. We had kids in the same school, but they were married and I was, well, not.

I would go out with these married ladies knowing it was doubtful I would meet someone, but as a single mom mostly doing freelance work out of my home, I wasn’t exactly in a lot of social circles to feed a thriving dating life.

Meeting someone. Meh.

Meeting someone. Meh.

Let’s go ahead and get it out there: “You aren’t going to meet anyone you want to spend your life with at a bar!”

This is a sentiment that well-meaning mothers (myself included) and practical people (me) are quick to offer, and while it is mostly true, it isn’t always true. I know a friend who was leaving a bar and met the love of her life. And I’ve met the guy. He’s awesome! They are very happily married to this day. Rare? Yes. But at the time, going out still seemed like a better choice than Internet dating, at least for me.

In my previous life, it would have been preferable to meet a nice man at church. But I guess after meeting my husband at a Christian university and things not working out with him, I couldn’t exactly claim relationship success just because Jesus was contextually involved. After all, I was attending a large church in Nashville, and I wasn’t meeting anyone there. My ex-husband met a nice girl at church, but that’s another story.

If nothing else, a night out with make-up and heels on for honky-tonkin’ and bar hoppin’ gave me a lot of indications on whom NOT to date.

There were two things I could count on when we went out: that the evening would be entertaining and that we would end up at Steak ‘n’ Shake. That was always the last stop on the party train.

Sometimes when I was out with my married friends, they would say things like, “Are you even open to meeting someone? You have to be open.” One of them would actually make this motion with her hands coming together at her chest and then separating them wide until her arms were on either side of her body. She would repeat the motion for emphasis. “Open.”

I didn’t know if I was open in the way they meant it or not. Open to what: kissing a stranger, a one-night stand? Oh yeah, that’s the way to start a quality relationship when you have a daughter at home. Sometimes I wondered if they were trying to live vicariously through me.

I remember one time we were out, a couple of guys became interested in our group. That night, three or four of us were hanging at a place more restaurant than bar. My friend started talking to one of the guys and kept talking to him for what seemed like a long time. When he left to grab a fresh drink, she rushed over to me.

“Kim, you need to meet this guy. He’s your age. He’s never been married, but he’s ready to settle down. He even wants kids. He’s ready for all of that.”

Wow. She was able to make quite the comprehensive evaluation in that bar conversation. Maybe I should give this guy a chance! This was back when I thought the idea of having another baby would be great. The original life plan had always included 2 to 4 kids.

So there I was, ready to meet a single, age-appropriate guy with less baggage than me who would get me back on track to fulfilling my dreams.

It’s clear when the guy comes back from the bar—let’s call him Rick (since I have no recollection of what his actual name is)—that he was expecting a conversation with me. Sadly, all my cynicism about chivalry and the loss of general dating decency was cemented within moments of Rick opening his mouth.

Surely this was not the same man my friend had been talking to. This man led with sexual questions so inappropriate that I almost felt sorry for him. Why? What changed? Is this what the token single girl in the group gets? Raunchy conversation starters versus true relating? Should I tell him right now I have a young daughter? Too soon?

I tried to see past the words. He didn’t look like what he was saying. He was handsome but not too good looking if you know what I mean. He had kind eyes. Maybe he’d been drinking too much. But I was much too sober for what he was saying and honestly so disgusted that I simply got up and left.

I hadn’t even pulled out of the parking lot before I got a text from my friend.

“What happened? Why did you leave?” Then she sends me Rick’s number. “Call him. He’s really nice.”

I headed home leaving Rick and my hope in dating behind, at least for the night.

“Maybe I’ll meet someone nice at Starbucks.” Oh…about that…(There is unfortunately a related post.)

I am a runner.

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In late summer this year, I will celebrate twelve years of running. I started running when my daughter was a toddler, training with Team in Training for The Lymphoma Leukemia Society and raising money for a little boy Emma’s age named Jake who had leukemia.

IMG_2475I have precious memories of my little 3-year-old coming into the bathroom after my long training runs. Her sweet feet would shuffle in glee when she poured big buckets of ice into my recovery baths as I braced myself and squealed. But my “yes” to endurance running began with recognition of my unsettled spirit.

Things at home, even though it was years before our divorce, were becoming tense. The metaphor is simple: I longed for an escape and a challenge, and that’s exactly what running gave me.

Running has continued to be a nice, healthy escape for me over the years. Some years I run less than others, but I’m back to training now, my next half marathon in just a few weeks.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that once again, as the mileage is climbing, I find myself in a season that is unsettling. I’ve confessed to some friends that I’m unsure if what I’m working through is a faith crisis or a mid-life crisis; maybe it’s a bit of both.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, I had the awesome opportunity to be a part of the Passion reading. This year, as I read the familiar passages, I was struck by the behavior of Jesus’ most faithful followers. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus scolds several of them three times for sleeping and not keeping watch. Later, as things intensify, the disciples abandon Jesus altogether.

They run. They escape. Runners: all of them. 

The scriptures on Sunday went from the triumph of Jesus being hailed in Jerusalem all the way to the empty
tomb. The same people who loved him on the way in become an integral part of his undoing. Even when placed in a modern context, this would hardly be surprising.

Fear and death are powerful forces after all. But neither is more powerful than love. 

The thing that really struck me as I experienced the scripture from my current vantage point was that the sacrifice of Jesus wasn’t dependent on those runners. What God was accomplishing through His son wasn’t dependent on whether they believed, or helped, or even if they stuck around.

So much of what we are trying to accomplish in this life relies on the support of friends, family, coworkers, or our so-called “followers.” Projects come to a halt; sales don’t soar; dreams aren’t accomplished without support. But it is not so with God. He keeps moving in spite of the runners like me.

He doesn’t give up on a great plan even when everyone else is looking for an escape plan. 

And when I apply that miracle to my own life, it’s truly humbling. It is a source of real hope to think that my unbelief, my unsettled spirit cannot stop His plan for me. He is always seeking me and loving me even when I’m not returning the sentiment.

This Sunday I’ll be celebrating the miracle that was not at all dependent on me, or even the faith of the disciples who went before me. I’ll be remembering the greatest gift of love this runner has ever known.

Tupelo honey

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FullSizeRenderI love to run. Though I’ve been sidelined a bit the last couple of years with a car accident and a bout with melanoma, I love the challenge of my feet on the pavement, pushing forward for how ever many miles my body and mind can take me.

Sometimes I listen to music when I run. A few years back, I was freshening up my running playlist and came across Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” in my music library. I hadn’t heard the song in years. I had forgotten I even owned it in any digital form though I’m sure a cassette tape or CD was in some dusty state somewhere.

I dragged the title over to my playlist without much thought. The song wasn’t really the right tempo for running, but I wanted to reacquaint myself with the favored old tune.

It’s the song I walked down the aisle to on my wedding day. I probably at least had unconsciously avoided it for that reason and more. My former husband was a big Van Morrison fan, so we listened to his music often. When we planned our non-traditional wedding, we chose music that represented us including two Van Morrison songs. We left the chapel to “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen to give you an idea of the flavor of the service.

No offense to brides and church organists everywhere, but I just couldn’t do the typical wedding march thing. I don’t have anything against classical music. I have studied both violin and piano, and I work part-time in a music library that is filled with the beautiful songs of mostly dead composers.

But the sentiment of love expressed in “Tupelo Honey” was just right for us. Though perhaps deeper meanings are implied, there is reason to believe Van was expressing love for his wife when he wrote the song.

As I stood in my 1990s white princess gown (puffy sleeves and all) in the foyer of the chapel on our college campus with my dad, panic set in. I distinctly remember saying to him, “I don’t think I can do this.” He just laughed, looped my arm in his and said, “Yes you can.” And he wasn’t just saying that because he and my mom had dropped a huge chunk of change on our wedding. He knew that I could step forward into that day and into the unknown of the years to come.

And for us, the years to come would eventually mean the end of an almost 13-year marriage after a decade of ups and downs, several years on a counseling couch, and eventually three years of separation.

I can say in hindsight as I have walked with other friends in a struggling marriage that it’s easier to be bitter and pissed, to de-humanize the good memories of a once-loving relationship that has ultimately ended in death.

Pain, if we let it, has a longer shelf life than the beautiful moments that have gone before. 

And unfortunately, sometimes your friends and family, even good Christian ones, will amp things up by regularly reminding you of why your marriage is not working. At the end of it all, no matter how long that end takes, you can wind up angry and stay angry for decades. That may be justified in certain cases, but in my case, I am happy to say that a simple act of putting my wedding song on my running playlist did me a world of good.

It was a long training run on a beautiful Tennessee Saturday. I had gotten up early to get my miles in. “Tupelo Honey” was near the bottom of the song order. As that signature gentle intro with piano, flute, and guitar began, I almost stopped in my tracks, but I kept going.

I let the lyrics of the song wash over me fresh and new. And the memories flooded back about my wedding day along with so many other great days that I had with my husband. And this time, I didn’t push those thoughts away. No, I ran, and I pushed right through the pain to the glorious sweetness of it all.

I let myself remember how bright the sun was on that October day in 1995, and how we left hand-in-hand through the doors of our college chapel. I remembered the way my husband smiled at me that day and how he looked years later when he held our baby girl for the first time.

While I was out on that run, I reconciled with so much in my past marriage relationship. By hearing those words, “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey,” I was able to realize that someone did feel that way about me at one time, even if those feelings had changed. That may seem overly simple, but it was a turning point in my healing process over my divorce.

Tears rolled down my face as I rounded the last turn into our parking area. They were tears of joy. I celebrated the fact that I was loved with purity on that day. I celebrated that fact with a new wisdom and peace. The music swelled and with it my realization that I no longer had to hold that day in a place of sadness and grief.

My wedding day wasn’t a mistake. Yes, things had changed but that didn’t have to diminish those moments of joy and love as sweet as Tupelo honey.

P.S. Last summer, I got to see Van Morrison live in Edinburgh, Scotland. He didn’t sing Tupelo Honey at the concert, but he didn’t have to. I had made my peace years before with the tune and all the memories it held for me. When I hear it unexpectedly now, I turn the volume up, enjoy the groove, and a warm smile lights up my whole face.

Writer’s Note: This post is dedicated to one of my best friends, living in my favorite state and soon to be mom to Oakley. She knows why…

Weight Lost

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All in.

All in.

I missed posting during Advent and Christmas. I had plenty of words, but they just wouldn’t come together in any gelled and coherent fashion. I was struggling a bit through the season, limping along after a tough fall with cancer, continued economic woes, and old, unresolved spiritual questions.

Needless to say, I was ready to see the calendar page turn to 2015. January is a time for restarts after all, a time of purging the old and bringing on the new. A time when exercise equipment is 40% off and your favorite gym is suddenly inundated with enthusiastic “resolutioners.”

We used to watch The Biggest Loser quite often, rooting for our favorite trainers and contestants each season. There’s no discounting the work that goes into each story on a show like that, but I’ve come to realize that in this age of constant reality TV and popular diets, that we must be careful not to become numb to weight loss victories.

Those perhaps tired words of, “fought long and hard through sacrifice and determination,” might not hold the weight (pardon the pun) they once did. But every weight loss story represents a deeply personal battle.

I have lost 5 pounds this month, and I had to fight for each and every one of them. I had to choose to be all-in or risk cheating and cutting corners like I usually do.

This battle that continues beyond a New Year’s Resolution, and after this cheat weekend around the Big Game, got me thinking about other weight loss battles I am undertaking. There is a purposeful spirit in me to unburden and purge my mind of tired tapes, of lingering over past hurts, and to be more aware of the destructive forces that erode my sense of self.

If I can be disciplined to lose 5 pounds of the junk that separates me from my best self, what new hope might I have for this year? What cool things and goals might I finally accomplish?

Losing some physical weight, hard as it is, seems simple compared to the mental and emotional work of this other type of weight loss. But I see the potential before me, and I long to stay on the path to get to the end of 2015 when I can say with confidence that I’ve made real progress.

I must move forward toward the “life I have imagined” before I’m resigned to a less-than existence that serves no one, least of all the people I love and those in community around me.

What do you want to lose by the end of 2015? What “weight lost” story do you need to begin now? A horrible habit that is killing you? All the ways you numb yourself against pain? Is it a bad relationship you need to set boundaries against or the dark places your mind goes to when you think about the past?

Every weight-loss journey represents a victory. Victory may look easy on the big screen or when we compare ourselves others, not fully comprehending all that goes on behind the scenes.

It’s time to focus. Let’s do that hard work this year to lose whatever we need to lose, so when we get to “Happy New Year!” in 2016 we can celebrate all that we are gaining with every weight lost.