Summer Beautification Program: Final Assignment– Let Love In.

 I cannot tell you how many of my friends have approached me in the last few months and told me they feel drained of energy, that they are “over parenting.” It’s summer vacation and we really don’t care if our kids eat an applesauce, a squeezy yogurt and a granola bar call it a “meal.” 

  I also have friends who don’t have kids and are a bit tired of life as it is. They feel unmotivated, uninspired, stressed or burnt out whether from work, or lack of connection with other people. 

   Too many people feel somehow disconnected or in a funk. I think a lot of people who signed up to do this Summer Beautification Program have been feeling this way. They are hoping for a little inspiration to start feeling life again. 

  I don’t know if it’s been working for everyone reading these blog posts each week. Maybe you’ve been able to try a few of the assignments, maybe not. But I am hoping you feel your soul starting to wake up if you have. And for anyone just jumping in, you are welcome to start right here at Week 8 or loop back around to Week 1. The nice thing is, any of these activities can be done at any time. 

   This will be my final week posting prompts but I want to delve into one of the closest relationships we have in our lives: our relationship with our partners. In the past few months, Scott and I have been on a journey of reconnection. A year ago, we were very disconnected. So much so, in fact, that I was considering a divorce. 

   God, it hurts to type that here… I am immediately sweating just admitting that on my blog. A lot of my close friends and family read this. But I am going for transparency here. I want you to understand how human I am and if there is hope for me, I know there is hope for you.

  It’s true though, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be married anymore. I was unhappy with Scott. I was unhappy with the life we’d created, but most importantly, I was unhappy with who I had become. My anxiety and depression were at an all-time high. I was allowing my fear and sadness to rule my mind and my heart. Our son Luke had just been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. I didn’t know how to handle it even though I was going to his therapy sessions with him. It was debilitating at times, he was scared to do a lot of things and I was scared to make him try. Scott’s general attitude was, “Everyone just needs to suck it up and deal with it. We all are going through something. Just get through it.” He was also burying his unhappiness in his work. We were both resentful toward each other. I was angry with how apathetic he’d become toward me and the kids. He was angry at how emotionally needy we all were. He was raised as an only child for most of his life and had learned very young how to survive by suppressing his emotions. His rationale was: “If I could do that as a kid, why can’t all of you?”

  Similarly, I was in survival mode. I barely had enough energy to take care of myself and then my kids demanded even more of me. I felt little purpose outside of making meals, keeping the house tidy, and driving each kid to where they needed to go.  As a stay at home mom, there is often little acknowledgement of our efforts, and since I am a words of affirmation junkie, I was starving for love and affection. 

  My next assumption was that our family was broken. Scott and I, as a couple, were broken. It was more harmful to our kids to see us together in a loveless marriage than to just admit defeat and go our separate ways. I waited though, hoping Scott would tune in with some telepathic ability to see how unhappy I was. Oh sure, I’d break down crying now and again, but he couldn’t really hear me with his mind as closed as it was, and my words only sounded selfish and needy. The ironic thing is, usually when we feel disconnected from our partner, the real problem is that we are disconnected from ourselves. But I didn’t understand that then.

  By the fall, in a glorious, hellacious burst of flames I crashed hard against the ground. Scott and I were forced to decide what we were going to do.

Divorce seemed like a very real possibility to both of us. We talked about a separation just to see what that would be like. Our conversations went late into the night for weeks. We laid everything out on the table to each other, the ugliest parts of who we are and the most hideous lies we’d been believing about each other and ourselves. 

  Then something unexpected happened. When the reality of taking those steps to end our marriage seemed so real, we decided to give it one last ditch effort, our strongest try yet, to see if there wasn’t something worth saving. 

  Spoiler Alert: There was. But initially we weren’t sure how to find the parts worth saving. 

  We began with couples counseling, which I highly recommend especially if you feel like you don’t know where to start having those hard conversations. We talked to someone who was an unbiased third party and would give her insight about what kind of questions we should ask each other and appropriate ways to respond. She also encouraged us to get back to our friendship with each other; we had to learn how to be friends again. 

  So we scheduled a weekly date night which felt extremely awkward at first. I remember getting ready before our first night out, putting on make up and doing my hair and feeling kind of ridiculous. Scott had seen me looking pretty awful the last few weeks. I was skin and bones from barely eating so my clothes all hung off me like a pillow case, my cheeks were sunken in and I had dark circles under my eyes. I was constantly shaking so attempting to apply eyeliner felt like a joke because I knew I’d be crying it off in a matter of hours. I’d lost wads of hair from stress, so much in fact, that even my hairdresser commented on how thin my hair was. Scott and I drove to dinner in relative silence besides the sound of traffic and whatever was on the radio. 

  We got to the restaurant and to our surprise, there was so much more to talk about once we sat across that table from each other. We looked at one another as people who had survived some kind of war. It made us both laugh at how beat up we both looked. After everything we’d been going through, we had gotten dressed up, driven to a fancy restaurant and were trying to reignite this flame that looked more like ashes from where we sat. 

  Scott looked so tired, but his eyes were soft staring back at me over that table with a very teary smile. It was like all the walls were down. All we could be in this moment was ourselves, vulnerable and real. We pretended it was a first date. We didn’t talk about the kids. We talked about things we remembered from childhood. Some of the things we said we’d told each other many times before, but listening to Scott tell his stories now, I really tried to hear with new ears. The details we share in stories give clues about what means the most to us in those memories; the way his grandma would cut up apples into tiny triangles…swimming with his cousin Michael in Green Lake…dribbling that basketball for hours at a time by himself because he wanted to be the best at it. I listened to everything carefully and tried to be in those memories with him seeing things from his vantage point.

  And so began the journey to saving our marriage. We kept a steady date night scheduled for once a week those first few months. We still go out regularly, but sometimes it’s more like every other week.

  We made some major life changes to allow us to reprioritize our marriage. He scaled back his work hours. He encouraged me to go back to work, I began teaching a creative writing course in the winter (I’m teaching it again starting in September!) and I am working to get my personal training certification, as well as running the child watch program at my gym three mornings a week so other moms can get their time to feel strong. I want to help other women to rediscover their strength not only mentally, but also physically. When we align body, mind and spirit so that all the pieces of ourselves are working together we allow ourselves to be whole human beings. 

  I am taking steps in my life to encourage others (especially women) to reconnect with themselves. I don’t want anyone to be where I was last year. I don’t want anyone hurting the way I was or hurting others as a result of who they have become. I feel this calling from a voice greater than my own. God is using my brokenness to heal not only myself, but others. My mess is now my message.

 Often in life, you have to knock your walls down and let love work miracles.

  I’ve said many times, God cannot be seen physically on earth, so He relies on us to perform His work through each other. He needs us to be the beauty in the world to one another. When you think you have no purpose left here, I beg you to look deeper. There is a reason you opened your eyes this morning. There is still work to be done. 

  Don’t give up. Don’t believe the lies or the fear that try to come into your heart. Fight for your spirit, for God’s purpose in your life. Act with grace and love. Allow that beautiful energy to flow through you and to direct your life. When you are acting out of obligation, you feel drained. But when you are acting with love, serving others revitalizes you.

The assignment this week is two-fold and there is a bonus assignment if you have a partner: 

  1. Make it a point to get active. Go for bike rides or walks, alone or with your crew. Shoot for two or three days a week, just get moving in a way that is fun and motivates you. And fuel your body with healthy food. Treat your body the way it deserves to be treated. 
  2. Make time to meditate/pray/reflect. For me, this often means writing. For my mom, it sometimes includes painting. I have friends who love yoga first thing in the morning. Whatever your spirit needs to feel alive, make time for that. You’re not being selfish by needing this time for yourself. You MUST take care of your own soul before you can be effective at caring for anyone else.
  3. *Bonus–If you have a partner: Schedule time for you and your partner to reconnect. Go on a date alone, no other couples. Go to a nice restaurant, or wine tasting, kayaking, picnicking, anything where you can be alone together. Maybe not axe-throwing or a shooting range… save that for date night two or three…During your time out, don’t talk about work or kids. Talk about your childhood. Talk about a place you have visited or hope to visit someday. Talk about things that give some insight into who you are and what you are about, outside of being a mom or dad or a __(insert profession here)__. 

Thank you for signing up for the Summer Beautification program. Thank you for opening your heart to love and self-reflection. Thank you for reading my words each week and trying these ideas which may have been out of your comfort zone at times. I know everyone is capable of great and beautiful things. We just need to tap into our inner self to discover what our gifts are calling us to do with them. Often, it’s the thing that scares us most. But I encourage you to hold on to that thread of hope and see where it will lead you. 

  Every single choice we make is either going to enhance our spirit or drain it. Every day, we are giving ourselves power or taking it away.”—Carolyn Myss.

Much love,