Category Archives: Spiritual Divorce

Easter Lamb

Anastasis-Icon-finalΧριστός ανέστη εκ νεκρών, θανάτω θάνατον πατήσας, και τοις εν τοις μνήμασι ζωήν χαρισάμενος.—Christ is Risen, the song sung by Greek Orthodox at Pascha (Easter).

It is “Greek” Easter. I’m home alone, and the lamb is in the oven. Scents of  Greek seasoning waft throughout every nook and cranny of my small townhouse. As I do every year, I wonder if any of my children will continue the Greek traditions that I have established. The traditions were not present during my own upbringing until I took the initiative to embrace them when my now adult children were toddlers.

I recall the Easter lamb I cooked the year my father died and remember where we  were in the kitchen as I took it out of the oven. He was sitting at the kitchen table with his ever present smile and a line of oxygen under his nose, attached to a portable oxygen tank. He was delighted that he would have Easter lamb, and it made me happy to make him happy. A few weeks later he would be moved into my own home to be monitored by me and his hospice nurses as he lived his last months. I’d had reservations about moving him in, as my children were adolescents and I wanted to shield them from the ugliness of death. But my Greek Orthodox priest convinced me it would be fine. “In Greece the cycle of life is very natural. Papou dies downstairs and a baby is born upstairs,” he’d said and he’d been right.   I think back for a moment to the poignant goodbye around my father’s bedside with my mother, my children and me kissing him as he took his last breaths.

Dad’s mother, my grandmother Josephine, taught me to cook the lamb “the Greek way” which was interesting because she was full blooded Polish. Devoted to my grandfather and all things that made him happy, she was a better Greek cook than many of the full blooded Greeks I’ve known. I absolutely adored her and her kitchen always smelled like mine does now and I look at my hands working and in my heart’s eye I see her hands on tope of mine, guiding them.

Earlier in the week there’d been talk of my mother baking a ham this year, and a “we don’t want to inconvenience you” disingenuous pitch from those who will eat the lamb, greek style green beans, potatoes and salad with ample crumbled feta cheese. We go through this dance each year when we all know how the menu will pan out. Besides, my mother is not Greek and Easter to her side of the family means bunnies and bonnets. To Greeks, Pascha is the most important day of the year, the culmination of weeks of fasting and repentance and realigning ourselves to God and His mercy.

I check the lamb to see how it is coming along knowing that it will turn out perfectly as it always does. Although I don’t enjoy cooking as a rule, the traditional Easter dinner reminds me that I am an excellent cook and I wonder why I never dabble in it except on Pascha. There was a time I did enjoy cooking more, and as I tend to everything to synchronize the timing of the dishes I remember back to my short marriage to FP and the meals we would enjoy preparing together.

Although part Greek himself, FP wasn’t trained in Greek religious food preparation and I loved teaching him to make his first loaf of prosfora, the blessed bread we use as the body of Christ for communion. I watched him press the etched seal into the top of the fluffy powdery loaf we’d made, with the seal given to me by the 83 year old Greek Orthodox woman who had taught me when I was a young mother. “Pray for me every time you use this,” she’d said when she gifted me my first prosfora seal and I do pray for Marie every time, releasing the seal to observe the intricate religious design passed down for generations on the top of the holy bread.

FP had also never made the koliva, the memorial wheat that is traditionally used at memorial services for the dead. I taught him to make it in the first year we were married, before my father’s memorial service.  FP and I had boiled the wheat berries and set them out on a pristeen white cloth to dry the night before the memorial, knowing we’d be mixing them early the next morning with the nuts, raisins, powdered sugar and the delicate pomegranate seeds that represent the blood of Christ. I’d left to run an errand and when I’d returned I saw FP had placed a vigil light next to the drying wheat berries along with a photo of my dad, and a photo of his own deceased grandmother. It touched me that he had made such a special memorial and I’d felt the presence of the Greek ancestors in our respective families joined together.

Later I would teach FP’s youngest daughter from his first marriage to make prosfora and I’d give her a seal asking her to pray for me each time she uses it. I’d also taught her to make koliva and I added the memorial shrine layout to the tradition as though it had always been a part.

As I put the finishing touches on the Easter lamb meal and set the table for the hungry family that will soon arrive, I feel tears welling up and an ache in my heart that is painful at the core. Perhaps it’s brought on by the fatigue I feel from being at long services throughout Greek Orthodox Holy Week. Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep after midnight resurrection service. There is a deep mourning for my ancestors who always come to mind as the lamb bakes, and a clear and present sense of momentarily missing my ex husband despite our divorce being over six years prior, his remarriage, and a healing balm of forgiveness that has washed away the drama that separated us.

Rather than stuff down the emotion, I let the tears flow, and hum the tune “Christos Anesti,” –Christ is Risen, the traditional Greek song that we will sing victoriously in the upcoming weeks. Then I do what I strive to do each day, each hour, each minute. I turn my life over to the Resurrected Savior and surrender to His lead for this moment in time. For just this very moment, I trust through Him, that everything is as it should be.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Women of Wisdom

Women of Wisdom

This blog was originally published in December, 2012.It is sent out with love to women struggling with their first Christmas post-divorce. You are not alone. 

The experts will tell you that you need a full year to recover from divorce. This is based partially on the fact that you have to go through all of the holidays once without your former spouse. Christmas was already a difficult time for me since my dad died a week before Christmas during my first marriage after I’d taken care of him as a hospice patient in my home for months.  I remember putting him in a wheelchair from his bed in the guest room and wheeling him in to watch my children decorate the Christmas tree.  After divorcing FP in October, the first post-divorce Christmas came quickly and I had to find a way to cope.

Wanting to put on a brave face, I decided to gather up my women friends and have a party.  I sent out an email: “At this holiday time you always hear about the wise men but what about the wise women?  I am inviting the wisest women I know to a ‘Women of Wisdom’ gathering at my home.  My two daughters will be in attendance.  Please come with two gifts for them: your best piece of wisdom and the one song they need on their iPod.” Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Lawyer as Peacemaker

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.”
― Aristotle

9787f890e1d1f8abc8c09826b868568dInvested in the grievance stories magnified by their lawyers, family law clients often become repeat customers. Whether through initial actions, modifications or contempt proceedings, family law practice can be steady business for the lawyer, but often leaves festering wounds for the families we represent.

Hard fought family cases can also hurt family lawyers. Our suffering clients call us non stop, email us long diatribes, even show up at our office unannounced and agitated. Fueling the fire by delivering scathing interrogatories or through biting cross-examination can wear on an advocate’s mind, body and spirit.

In response, family lawyers are starting to expand their practices to focus on peacemaking. What makes a lawyer a peacemaker?

1. They practice law with connection and authenticity. Peacemakers don’t think it makes them less of a lawyer because they refuse to heap more hurt on hurting people, especially when children are involved. They genuinely care about the well being of their clients, their colleagues and themselves and believe that peaceful problem solving approaches are healthier for everyone.

2. They use proactive early intervention. Peacemakers recognize that the parties will still have to work together even after the legal intervention, so they set a tone of healing instead of aggression from the outset of a case. Whether through mediation, collaborative law, or simply meeting with the other lawyer to discuss the case, peacemakers agree to customize a strategy that works for both clients. They look for ways to streamline the legal process instead of letting it be driven only by court deadlines.

3. They use an interdisciplinary approach to conflict. Family lawyers are expected to be lawyer, counselor, financial advisor, parenting coach, communication expert, real estate analyzer and retirement guru. Peacemakers recognize the best use of the lawyers’ time is for legal advice, drafting and interfacing with the judge. They involve specialists including therapists, child development experts, financial advisors, realtors, and social workers to assist in developing a comprehensive plan for the family. Adding these experts mean the family has a highly specialized team often providing lower overall cost for comprehensive decision making. Lawyers focus on what they do best, and minimize the stress of trying to solve all the client’s problems themselves.

4. They encourage clients to “do the right thing.” Peacemakers don’t consider it a “win” to have someone pay as little child support as possible, if it means children aren’t financially supported at the other parent’s house. They don’t automatically fight to minimize a healthy and loving parent’s time with their children, at the request of a heartbroken client. These lawyers use words like “healing” and “forgiveness” and may set up infrastructures to improve trust and teamwork between parents. They help clients write a new forward focused story of life transformation that identifies the client as the hero, not the victim of the story.

5. They model emotional intelligence. Active listening, compassion and empathy are key skills used by peacemaking lawyers. “Patience is the greatest attribute of a peacemaker,” says Dick Calkins, a longtime advocate of peacemaking law. These lawyers don’t thrive on depositions with blistering accusatory questions so their clients can see their lawyer hurt their partner. Instead, they work together respectfully and cooperatively, modeling behavior families will need in order to heal. That may include producing documents voluntarily upon request and using calm reasoned discussion instead of threats.

6. They take the long view and encourage clients to do the same. Author of the ABA bestselling book “Lawyers as Peacemakers” J. Kim Wright puts it this way: “The upheaval of divorce can be very emotional and uncomfortable. It is easy to succumb to the emotions of the moment and strike out, do some damage, hurt you because you hurt me. Reacting provides short-term satisfaction and guarantees long-term conflict.

Peacemaking focuses on the long view, aligning with long-term values and goals. What relationship do these parents want to have in five, ten, twenty years? Who goes to the first day of school? Who will celebrate the team championship with your daughter? Will you dance at your son’s wedding or boycott because your ex will be there? The long view isn’t easy, but it is the path that focuses on the well-being of your child, not the emotions of the moment.”

7. They are creative in their approach to conflict. Each case is viewed as a unique set of circumstances requiring a customized approach of creative problem solving. Lawyers are creative people, but in traditional practice they aren’t encouraged to “think outside the box.” Peacemakers unleash creative thinking without feeling intimidated in putting forth a unique idea that isn’t borrowed from the standard stipulation template.

Often, the biggest impediment for peacemaking lawyers is the other lawyer. If opposing counsel makes aggressive moves or promotes themes of “fight to win,” or “let’s let the judge decide,” it frustrates peacemaking opportunities. Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean you sing kum-by-ah and get eaten alive in litigation. It means you see the peacemaking approach as a higher calling because it results in much healthier outcomes and is more satisfying to your clients and your own soul.

A baby lawyer fully trained in peacemaking skills recently told me, “I hope for the day when a client calls asking to destroy the other side in litigation and a lawyer says, “I’m sorry, I don’t engage in that type of law, it’s not healthy for families.”

And then, they call the next person on the list and that lawyer says, “I’m sorry I don’t engage in that type of law it’s not healthy for families.” And then each lawyer down the list says the same thing so that clients understand that peacemaking and healing families is what it means to be a family lawyer.”

I may not see that total shift in the practice of family law during my lifetime. But I truly believe he will.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I Still Choose Happiness

1090786_52658058Here is my very first blog post, written in 2012.  Today it is more true than ever.

If you ask my three young adult children to summarize my motherly advice they would give you three words: “make good choices.” I could have easily dispensed other advice.“Don’t do drugs,” “Study hard,” “Eat your vegetables.” Instead, I concluded “make good choices” covered everything, and I made it my constant theme throughout their lives.

As they grew up, there were many opportunities to discuss choices with my two daughters and my son. There were also many opportunities to admit my own choices, good and bad, as I lived out the consequences of those choices right in front of their eyes.

The most important advice I can give to those involved with divorce is similar but more succinct: choose happiness.

I was divorced from my children’s father after 18 years of marriage. I entered into a second marriage but due to a series of devastating events, after only two years that second marriage also ended in divorce. I was so grief stricken that I could barely function. There were days I just chose to stay in bed. During that time, a friend called. “When your divorce is over, you’re going to SOAR,” she said to me.

SOAR? I was barely upright. But something in her words resonated. I WANTED to soar. I wanted to heal. Most importantly I wanted to be happy.

Through my own healing journey, and watching the thousands of people I have worked with in court and mediation, I have concluded that instead of being a victim, focusing on the sadness, and anger, You must CHOOSE happiness.

Even though I was laden with grief, I started to look up. I focused on the birds flying, flapping their wings over the lake near my home. Often there was only one bird in the sky all by itself, and I jokingly called it my spirit guide. I set my sights on soaring in happiness and used the birds as my guides.

My counselor told me “fake it till you make it.” I began to smile, laugh, speak positively about life. I took up salsa dancing. I was still in deep grief, shock even, that I was divorced. Yet I approached others with a positive, happy attitude. Consistently, I decided to choose happiness, to watch the birds, and to open my heart to life.

In his book The Untethered Soul, author Michael A. Singer says the key to staying happy is to understand your inner energies. “If you look inside, you will see that when you’re happy, your heart feels open and the energy rushes up inside you. When you aren’t happy your heart feels closed and no energy comes up inside. So to stay happy, just don’t close your heart. No matter what happens, even if your wife leaves you or your husband dies, you don’t close.”

I once mediated a case where a father fled the United States after he divorced his children’s mother, leaving her unemployed, with four children to raise and $17 in the bank. He was gone 14 years. The mother told me that she had literally lain crying on the floor for days while her young children watched her. Suddenly it dawned on her that she had a choice. She could choose to be a victim, or she could choose happiness. She picked herself up off the floor, went out and got a job, took classes to refresh her teaching credential and ultimately became a teacher during the day and a sales clerk after hours. It was painstaking and slow, but she rebuilt her life.

The mediation was for the father’s failure to pay child support while he was out of the country. At one point in the mediation the two parties and I met together without lawyers in the room and the husband asked the wife “How did you manage after I left?” The wife told him, “I chose to be happy.” The wife looked at peace, very attractive and calm. She also said that as a result of choosing happiness, she was able to find forgiveness for her husband. Conversely, the husband who ran from his life circumstances was suffering with various physical maladies, looked older than his biological age and spoke from a place of regret and sadness.

Her success because of her choice is not isolated. Recently I received a call from another former client. When we spoke, she was teary and confided that since I’d seen her, her second marriage had collapsed after her second husband admitted an affair with a coworker. She was devastated.

“I know you are hurting, but I promise you, if you choose happiness, you will SOAR,” I told her.

Some months after our conversation, I received a letter from the woman. It read, in part:

Dear Kim,

Thank you for sharing your experiences with me. As crazy as it sounds, our phone conversation changed my life in an instant. I was in a pretty dark hole and trying to deal with pain, unanswered questions and figuring out how to raise my kids when I wasn’t in a good frame of mind. You said some key things to me. The first was that I would experience great happiness and great joy like I had never felt. I made a decision that if I was going to feel those things, why wouldn’t I open my heart now instead of waiting until I healed, which might not happen if I didn’t move it forward. It was an instant mind shift on my part. I have such inner peace and calm. I see my kids and my friends in a whole new light. I take it all in. I am not living to please my husband. The more I gave, the more he took. It wasn’t pretty for anyone. I am living purposely. And I’m laughing….a lot!

The formula is not as difficult as it seems. According to Singer, “You have to stay conscious, centered and committed at all times. You will have to stay one- pointed on your commitment to remain open and receptive to life. But nobody said that you can’t do this.”

And, as my counselor said, “fake it till you make it.”

What does Singer describe as proof the process is working? “ If you remain open enough, waves of uplifting energy will fill your heart.”

Eight years post divorce, my children tease me about my affinity for watching birds, particularly when there is one that seems to be the only one in the sky for miles. “There’s mom’s spirit guide,” they laugh. To this day a lone bird in the sky symbolizes a choice I made at my lowest point: I chose to soar.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Story Catching

 

butterfly net

The butterfly net on my fourth floor windowsill .

At Stamatelos & Tollakson, we love the way our law and mediation office is decorated, and one item in particular carries a special meaning. A butterfly net is perched on my fourth floor windowsill. It represents the fact that as compassionate peacemaking attorneys we are story catchers.

Each family has a story, an emotionally laden narrative, unleashed once we’ve invited a client into the sacred, safe space of our inner office. Catching the story is our most important job whether the story is rich with detail or spewing with venom; whether spilling out unfettered once the storyteller opens their lips or coaxed out in slow, staccato pieces through the guidance of our gentle questions.

As we listen, we are figuratively sitting in the dark using our mental butterfly net to sweep in grief, shame, fear, guilt and the details that created them, ultimately dumping out the contents of the net on the conference table for deep examination. Side by side with the client we dissect the narrative, looking for nuggets of understanding and clues for what we might do to move them through divorce using creative problem solving to begin healing their lives and families.

After listening to thousands of stories and navigating the legal system to keep families out of court, here’s what we know about the stories we hear.

1.Divorcing people must choose a compassionate listener. Lawyers are busy people and they are constantly carrying lots of information in their heads. Unless they are intentional and focused, they may not be mindfully present during the story delivery. Compassionate lawyers are easily recognizable. They are the ones that make eye contact, listen with only limited and thoughtful interruption, and empathize with a client’s story. They aren’t the ones that listen sporadically, write down lots of notes and then respond to a story by quoting fees.

2. Failing to get out the entire story short circuits healing, and courtrooms are unhealthy places to tell one’s divorce story. Judges are scrutinizing the stories determining whom and what to believe. Lawyers are listening with an objection in mind, pouncing on pieces of the story that shed a bad light on their client. A judge’s ruling can keep one or more parties stuck in the old story, with more wounding added to an already devastating circumstance.

In mediation or at a collaborative divorce table, alongside their compassionate peacemaking lawyer, clients comfortably share their stories while having empathy, intensive listening and empowerment applied as first aid. This provides our clients relief from their suffering, allowing them to see the possibility of opening to a new post-divorce story.

3. Divorcing parties must let go of pieces of the story that no longer serve them. Divorce client’s stories have common underlying themes: betrayal, struggle, disconnection, abandonment, loss, and grief. Each party is often actively choosing to be the victim or victor in their stories, often identifying the other party as the sole perpetrator. When clients stay “stuck” in their victim story it becomes a tape on automatic replay in their head fueling their heart sickness and sadness. Victim stories and attacking the other spouse can play well in court, where the stories are memorialized in a legal transcript that marks the victim indelibly in perpetuity.

Good lawyers know that clients who stay stuck in their grievance story block pillars of healing like forgiveness and letting go of blame. We are not the heroes of the story, riding in to “fix” our clients’ problems. Instead we are the wise and caring guides who walk alongside them pointing out the path to the future with one hand, our other arm around their shoulders supporting and empowering them when they become weak on the journey. Along the way we are offering them peaceful methods of resolving the divorce and healing their lives.

4. Children of divorce have their stories written by hurting parents. Is it really fair to ask a child to choose one parent over another? As a parent, is “winning” custody of a child making a better story for that child? Most children love and crave time with both parents. Compassionate lawyers unearth the source of fear and worry about a child’s time in the other parent’s care. Through calm and non-accusatory dialogue, expectations can be clarified and communication skills can be strengthened.

5. Clients’ stories are interwoven into other divorce stories. Plot twists happen to our clients when new paramours come on the scene, co-mingling pieces of their own divorce stories. Each adult and each child brings their own wounds or healing from the divorce to the new family dynamic. If brought in early, problem solving lawyers can coach clients before blended family conflict escalates to the point of courtroom intervention. These lawyers can also be resources for therapists, coaches and other professionals to assist families with the complicated transitions.

6. The client is the hero of the story. Peacemaking processes for divorce such as mediation and collaborative law allow the client to write a healthier closing chapter of their marriage. In these processes parties don’t ever see a courtroom, typically spend less money and use specially trained lawyers who are committed to peace for families. Instead of telling the story, the client can live the story, not letting the divorce be the crescendo of their existence. Living intentionally, the client can choose a life of significance and wholeness post divorce, making the most of who they are and what they have, and making a difference in their lives and those of their children, day by day.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Four Types of Love in Family Law

getimage.php

In May of 2014, I had the honor of being invited to a symposium sponsored by the Fetzer Institute, a private operating foundation established in 1962 by John Fetzer. The Institute’s mission is to “foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness in the emerging global community.” The conference was called “Divorce: What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

 For three days I worked with collaborative law colleagues from all over the world, exploring love, forgiveness and compassion in our work. Are these concepts appropriate for lawyers to even mention? Do they have a place in our discussions with clients? These issues and others were discussed throughout the conference.

 This blog contains my realizations about love in family law, as a result of the issues we discussed at the conference. 

The word “love” is attached to emotions, experiences, memories and misunderstandings that often cause disputes leading parties to seek out a family law professional. Because of this complexity, the definition of “love” may polarize those seeking to determine the role it plays in family law.

Grateful for my heritage, I find clarity in the Greek language, which offers four different words translated as “love,” each with distinct nuances in their definitions. In my thirty plus years as a family lawyer and mediator, I have seen all four dimensions of love play out in my work.

Eros” is the source of the word “erotic,” and it describes love that is passionate, highly emotional and often electric. Eros is based on self-satisfaction and pleasure and has an intensity that is fueled by one’s attraction to another. It is usually accompanied by sexual connection and scientists describe complex body chemistry affixed to erotic love.

Most relationships have eros at the outset, but in time it usually diminishes or becomes intermittent, leaving parties craving its return. “Why can’t we get that feeling back?” couples may ask bemoaning the fleeting nature of eros and reporting they are no longer “in love,” or have “fallen out of love,” with their partner as a result of its departure. When eros doesn’t return or it shifts to a different type of love, parties may want to sever relationships through family law interventions.

Sometimes a party has entered into a relationship with someone new, thus rediscovering eros, and they come to the family law conference rooms to move out of one relationship into another. Their current partner may be grieving, feeling betrayed and shattered, and the family law practitioner helps both parties make clear headed decisions while navigating their respective intense emotions.

“Storge” is a love based on the natural affection one has for husband, wife, child, or even a pet. Storge is built as family members are “doing life together.” It feels secure and comfortable and stems from receiving unconditional acceptance by family members, despite one’s defects and flaws.

In family law, storge has to be shuffled and realigned, as legal actions divide households. Most parents aren’t able to see their children as often as they’d like, sometimes causing them to fear loneliness and rejection. Finances are redistributed, often resulting in a shortage of money after considering all factors.

“Will the children reject me if I can’t provide for them as elaborately as the other parent, after this divorce?”

This fear of the shifting of storge can cause anxiety and a resultant recalcitrance in positions at the family law negotiation table. Skilled family law practitioners craft creative parenting arrangements and design financial realignment that sustains family security. Once the plans are in place, family members may be reassured and confident to move forward.

“Phileo” is a love grounded in affection or fondness and is the type of love one has in friendships. It is a “brotherly love” that often grows over time, and involves giving as well as receiving.

“We have become more like roommates,” is a common phrase from parties seeking to end their legal relationships, reporting that phileo is now prevalent. Couples who have lived in friendly phileo relationships report long stretches without physical connection, and they are rarely high conflict when they enter the family law environment. These clients often work productively through a mediator, or together in the same room in a collaborative divorce, moving smoothly out of marriages seeking “something more.”

Friends of couples transitioning out of relationships under any of these scenarios can have a great influence as a result of their phileo love. Research shows that the most common person approached for advice when a marriage is in trouble is a female friend, followed by a family member, then a male friend, then a coworker. [1] Accompany their friend to a legal consultation or mediation session these friends offering phileo can impact the outcome of a family law case through their “loving” advice and must be managed by the family law practitioner.

While navigating all of these complex dimensions of love, compassionate family law professionals are able to demonstrate the most noble type of love. “Agape” flows from our passion for the well being of others, which is often the reason we have given our lives to the practice of family law. Agape is fueled by our strong desire to recognize those who are suffering and to do what we can to alleviate that suffering through our skills and gifts in family law processes such as mediation and collaborative divorce.

Agape is not based on merit, circumstances, fault, or actions. It is dispensed to innocent victims in the stories we hear with the same intensity it is given to the unlovable, unkind, unresponsive, or seemingly unworthy. Through the healing balm of agape love, we unconditionally invite all who are involved in family law matters to find their highest selves at a time when they are wounded, confused, scared and broken.

Agape love guides practitioners to see the parties, the families, the friends, the lawyers, the therapists and all who are involved in the legal intervention as fellow human beings connected together on the journey of life, despite their stories or circumstances. Deep listening, empathy, compassion, minimizing blame, encouraging collaboration and introducing forgiveness, are the ways family law practitioners exude agape. Some of us may even mindfully present ourselves as vessels through which God’s own agape love can flow.

What does love have to do with family law? Love has everything to do with family law. By operating through love and recognizing it’s complexity, family law professionals delight in the joy and satisfaction of our work. We are able to connect with our fellow human beings in a way that leaves an indelible mark on their lives, and our own.

[1] 2014, The Doherty Relationship Institute, LLC

What if?

help-life-preserver-belt-sky-rescue-17173335Dear God, Please heal my romantic wounds, that I might give and receive true love.  Teach me how to let love in, and how to let it stay. –Amen

From “The Age of Miracles,” by Marianne Williamson.

 Recently I was contacted by a group of people working to promote the preservation of marriage.  It seems humorous to think a divorce lawyer,  herself twice divorced, would have something to offer the group.  But I’ve come to marvel at how God uses our mistakes and wounds, once healed, for His most important work.

I always ask clients who come into my office seeking divorce whether the marriage can be saved. Sometimes mediation first round discussions involve the question of whether the the divorce should continue. Clients will say they have tried to save the marriage, but that one or the other wouldn’t commit, or refused to give up a third party or a debilitating habit.  Many have tried marriage counseling.

The statistics the preservationists showed me indicate that in 75% of divorces at least one spouse is having second thoughts one year later.   In one survey 31% of men and 13% of women said they “wished I had worked harder to save my marriage.”

As we brainstormed ways lawyers could help in a marriage preservation initiative, I couldn’t help but think of my own divorce from FP. Even five years post divorce I ask myself that question every now and again.  “What if I had stayed?”

After years of hearing divorce stories and creating two of my own, I am convinced that the most important part of staying married is a commitment for the partners to “do their personal work.”  We are all wounded, some more than others, but until we have the courage to heal ourselves we can never reach the fullness of life that God created for us. If we are not whole, we can’t sustain an intimate relationship.

In her book “The Age of Miracles” author Marianne Williamson writes that in relationships, couples are ” drawn to each other in a way that our neuroses form a perfect fit. The ego’s intention is that they trigger each other’s wounds, but God’s intention is that they heal each other’s wounds. Which it will be is up to them. Whoever is willing to do the work in a relationship, seeing it as an opportunity for self-healing, will receive the blessing whether the other person makes the same choices or not. ”

“This is soon going to be a runaway train, ” I told FP shortly after filing for divorce, knowing how the legal process worked. “I think we both need to fix ourselves.  I am willing to do the hard work. If you will do it too, I will walk alongside you and hold your hand.   This is a defining moment that I will remember fighting for our marriage. Will you commit to doing the work?”

He stayed silent and continued eating a bowl of cereal.

I had a choice. I could stay, or cut loose for my journey of self to heal wounds that I had carried in to two marriages. I knew lessons we don’t learn will come back around until we have embraced them.

A couple we were friendly with came the next day and moved FP in with them. The marriage preservation folks say that friends who enter our story at this time have a great deal of influence over whether the marriage ends. They say that friends should be empathetic and listen, but should not encourage divorce. Instead they should refer us to resources that support entering upon a healing journey.

I often wonder what FP told those friends. They never had a conversation with me. I wonder what might have happened if, instead of whisking him away, they had sat us both down and counseled us to do the hard work. Interestingly, those friends have since divorced.

What makes some of us have the courage to heal our lives while others stay stuck?  Is it fear of the pain of looking in the mirror? Unwillingness to put forth the effort?  Lack of commitment to our partner, or to our marriage?  A combination of the above?  With FP, I will never know. One of the most painful things a partner in a marriage can do is to disconnect from someone they still love in order to embark on a journey of self.

“Healing can hurt,” writes Williamson. “Whether it’s the healing of having to face the shame of our own humiliation, or the pain of having to turn our backs on someone whose patterns are unhealthy for us to be around though we love them still.  Either way, the pain of the healing is far preferable to the pain of remaining at the effect of a neurotic pattern.”

I am a totally different person having made the difficult choice to leave.  I found life.  I don’t know exactly how to articulate this to my marriage preservation friends, most of whom describe long term healthy marriages where they have both committed to do the hard personal work.  What would they have done if their mate had been unwilling to join them on the journey?

I mourn for the marriages where only one chooses to heal. I wonder where I would be if FP had joined me. Where we would be. Even if we had done the work together would we have ended up a stronger couple?  Or would our mutual healing have led us to separate places?  I will never know.

According to Williamson, “Each must choose. The one who learns and grows will mature and ripen with age.  The one who doesn’t will just grow old….”

Divorce was a necessary step for me.  When I meet with clients, in addition to asking whether the marriage can be saved, I now ask them if they have explored deeply the idea of “doing their personal work together.” Some I send off to discernment counseling, a unique way of counseling around the question of “will we commit to try to save our marriage?” Others, I refer to individual counseling so that the pain of divorce breaks them open to finding themselves. I feel that by softly asking these questions and encouraging people to transform their lives, I am not just a machine filing divorces for the people who bring me a retainer.

The most important part of my healing journey was of course, strengthening my connection with God. “The problem with not yet leaning on God is that we tend to lean inordinately on other people. Failing to embrace a love that will always be there for us, we become vulnerable to ones that won’t be,” writes Williamson.

Whenever I ask myself the “what if” question, mine is worded a little differently.

“What if I had stayed,

And missed my life?”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

GUEST BLOG-“Plus One” by Robin Bourjaily

_DSC0190_1Thank you to my beautiful friend Robin for the following post.

“What are you doing September 7?”

Did he hear me catch my breath in July when he invited me to be his plus one for a wedding two months later? The relationship still today feels new; back then it was in its infancy and I couldn’t be sure we’d be interested in each other a week hence let alone in two months. But the day came and with it new shoes, a new-to-me skirt, and a handbag borrowed from my daughter. I like weddings, I told myself; it’s marriage that’s a problem.

So I wasn’t prepared for the emotional wallop I felt when we were sitting on the patio of the park lodge, looking at the tulle, lights, and bows and waiting for the wedding party and I realized—I hadn’t been to a wedding since I’d been divorced.

The very first wedding I attended was my cousin’s in her parents’ backyard garden where the patent leather shoes and little gloves my mother sent me in made me the most formally dressed guest. I was five. The bride wore flowers in her tumble of long dark hair, a loose, flowing dress and in my memory her feet were bare. The groom, all angles and limbs, was causal and comfortable. One of the most loving and supportive couples I know, they have been married more than forty years.

A series of classic, Iowa country weddings followed, those of our neighbors’ many daughters—the country church decked out in flowers, the groom and his men looking rather like beetles in their rented tuxes, the pouf of a wedding dress and the giggling girls full of youthful energy. The menu at the Lion’s Hall or the Elk’s Lodge would be sandwiches, relish trays, cheese squares and cake. There would be pink lemonade punch and a cash bar. The bride would dance a dollar dance—a dance where the best man would stand and wait to take money from any gentleman who wanted to dance with the bride. If the wedding party was particularly sassy, the groom might also be pressed into a dollar dance of his own, the best man and maid of honor competing to see whose dancer could raise more cash. The money would be stuffed into the groom’s pocket for extra spending on the honeymoon.

My first year of college, my brother’s wedding was an elegant diversion—twenty-six guests including bride, groom and celebrant, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. In spite of a last minute lost wedding band that sent the two of us around the corner to Tiffany’s to buy a new one, the evening was a celebration that launched another marriage I admire—two talented children and two vibrant, nurtured careers to be marked by their thirty year anniversary in January.

The first chocolate cake I ever saw at a wedding was a second marriage for both bride and groom when I was in graduate school. The bride, a friend of my mother’s, had selected a cake that was wrapped in chocolate fondant with a white-chocolate bow. The inside of the cake was as delicious as the outside was beautiful.

And then in 1990 my friends started to get married—my college roommate was the first—and what followed was a spate of weddings, sometimes six or eight in a year, at the same time as a lasting relationship came into my life. Sitting in wait for the bride and groom to arrive at a garden wedding outside of Philadelphia, I counted on my fingers the number of weddings we had attended in the years we’d been together. When I got to twelve I turned to my boyfriend and asked, “you know we’ve been to a dozen weddings?” He looked at me and grinned, “Maybe ours should be the next one we attend.”

It was an exciting summer, talking marriage. A trip to my hometown netted an ideal location. We made no formal announcement nor did I consider us to be engaged, but the idea was definitely in the pipeline and it felt right.

It felt right.

The proposal came—that all-important question asked and answered—in November. We set a date for the following April.

My wedding is my favorite wedding of all time, and I’ve been to some great ones. The groom and I attended to every detail, paid for the lion’s share ourselves, made sure it was elegant and joyful, wrote a ceremony and vows that were meaningful, chose music and performers accordingly, found the perfect (chocolate) cake recipe, had dark chocolate bunnies made as favors (our wedding was the day before Easter), chose our own flowers and prepared them, figured out where everyone would stay, wrote and printed the invitations, and on and on and on. It was not perfect, but there were no unbearable hitches, nothing that would end up on a funny video show, and my only true surprise was that I was both bride and hostess. Another time, I made a note to myself in the far reaches of my brain, I’d ask someone else to maintain the flow from ceremony to meal to cake.

Another time … I never in my life thought there would be another time. I still don’t. But there must be a part of a woman’s brain that’s wired for weddings. Leading up to my wedding I found a whole storehouse of information about weddings, what I liked, what I didn’t, what was traditional, what we could do without. And even now, even when the very idea of any wedding makes me shake my head vigorously, no, no never again, there’s a part of my brain that starts to imagine: second wedding, huh? What would I wear? What would be fun and joyful? What would be meaningful? That’s one answer I know: What creates a meaningful wedding is the connection between bride and groom, and when the ceremony and celebration emerge from that place, it’s a good wedding. When it doesn’t it’s because the wedding follows a cookie cutter template or the mother of the bride or some other relative prevails over choices that spring from the love that sparked the wedding in the first place.

And that’s where my wedding, ceremony and celebration came from, pure love. When I was still married, my wedding day was one of my stories, something I told about as a significant life moment like the birth of my two children, my graduations, the purchase of my first car. When people spoke, as people do, about such events in their own lives, I had my story. I could chime in.

But not that September Saturday, when I was my boyfriend’s plus one for the wedding of people I did not know. I could not. The woman sitting next to me at the reception more than once evoked her own wedding. When it was my turn, I told her about my brother’s wedding, my friend’s wedding, how many times I’d been a bridesmaid. I talked weddings, how many I’d been to, the extremes, but I never once referenced my own. It felt like something I couldn’t talk about any more, not with a stranger, not on a date, not at a moment when we were supposed to be celebrating all of the possibilities and joys of a brand new union.

I’ve been thinking about it since—have I lost my story? The marriage shifted dramatically, ending in divorce, but does that change the wedding story, revoke it somehow? I walk my brain back through and remember one of the wisest things my former husband ever said: You don’t know what you don’t know. When we got married, we did so thoughtfully, with joy and pure intention and love. That moment—that story—hasn’t changed. The marriage that followed netted many amazing twists and turns and two of the finest people I know. And with that understanding I have come to realize that the only thing that has changed is that my wedding was a chapter in my story, but it is still very much a part of my narrative, one that I can celebrate, cherish, and in time, should the occasion arise, share.

Robin’s regular blog is “Overneath It All” found at overneathitall.com

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

MY HEART’S DESIRE

 

photo-7

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart”-Psalm 37:4

I got my first diary for Christmas when I was in elementary school. Its cover was pink  with “My Diary” in cursive and of course, it had a delicate lock and key. I would sit and write my heart’s desire into the pages, then lock it up, returning it to its secret hiding place.

In college, my diary turned into entries scribbled in spiral notebooks.  Ultimately I switched to hard backed journals. Some were leather and others had Audrey Hepburn or a pithy inspirational saying on the front if they came from the sale table.

Pens for this writing have always been meticulously selected. Mostly gel blue medium points, smooth to the touch.  To this day I can’t resist the allure of the pen aisle at any store;  looking them over, selecting some then changing my mind, and always leaving with a new writing instrument.

For years I’ve attended the University of Iowa Summer Writing Festival, even flying in from Arizona when the children were young. I spend the weekend among kindred spirits on campus, unleashing my writer self. My friend Pam, the holder of a coveted creative writing degree, started to make the Iowa City trek with me a few years ago. We take the classes, write for hours and read our works to each other all weekend.

Four years after my divorce from FP while moving boxes to and fro in the basement, one box wouldn’t fit into my orderly rearrangement. Opening it to see if its contents could be tossed, I found it contained my journals from the years with FP.  I concluded I  was supposed to read them, so that night I propped myself in bed with several pillows and layers of warm covers even though it wasn’t cold outside.  For the next several nights I slowly turned  over each page, reading carefully.

“God wants you to have your heart’s desire,” FP had said over and over when I had questioned whether we should get married, and the pages reflected much on this topic.  Over time I’d assumed he was right and I acquiesced to marriage in spite of whispers of my inner voice.  The pages chronicled the details as the whispers became louder and ultimately the marriage ended in a painful divorce.

A few weeks after I’d read the journals, a new client came into my law office.  R and her husband had sought a collaborative divorce.  During our meetings she had commented, “We have to be sure to include the rights to my book in the property list.”

“Wow, a book! “ I’d replied in awe of her as a real writer. “I am so envious! I’ve always fancied myself a writer and it’s my dream to write a book.”

“Well,” she said, “when this is all over we will have to make that dream a reality.”

I had been realizing God was bringing just the right people into my life, and lo and behold here was a writer.  Because He always delivers “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine,” (Ephesians 3:20) she then said, “I am also a yoga teacher. One of my classes is Poses and Prose which incorporates yoga with writing.”

My two passions: writing and yoga.  I chuckled. Definitely God.

When her divorce was final, I signed up for a yoga/writing workshop with R.  It was amazing. Afterwards I asked R if she would coach me in writing and she agreed.

We began regular meetings at Caribou Coffee. I started with professional writing and quickly three  articles I wrote were published in The Iowa Lawyer magazine. R edited my early writing and gave me confidence through her encouragement.  I kept printed copies of the published articles in my law office  saying  “You might find this article I wrote helpful,” in my consultations with prospective clients.

I was a writer!

I also began to write my blog.  R helped me think of ideas and I read her blog for guidance.   I pressed the button to publish my first post amidst heart palpitations and fears of unworthiness.  “Your heat’s desire!” outshouted my inner critic.

“I think this blog could help people,” commented Father A when I emailed him the first few installments. With my earthly spiritual father’s blessing I was more empowered and I posted regularly.

For my birthday a few months ago Pam gave me a special gift.  My first dozen blogposts were published in a hardback book.  I opened it in shock.  “I am a writer.”

R and I still have a warm friendship.  I practice at her yoga studio, and we meet at Caribou for writing dates where we chat briefly then sit side by side writing.  When I talk to her about my writing life, she nods with understanding.

This past winter I took on a new project and  last month I completed a draft of my first book. It is a book for attorneys, and it is currently being edited.  I anticipate self- publishing it early next year.

I often think back to FP’s definition of my heart’s desire.  He limited it to romance.  Romance is beautiful but I’ve discovered the real definition is so much deeper.  It includes the love God has for me, and His intimate knowledge of my heart. He created that little girl who wrote in that first diary all those years ago, and He knew that writing made her heart flutter with joy.

I understand the Psalm now.  If you take delight in the Lord He will give you the desires of your heart.

And my heart’s desire is Him.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Peace, Love, Yoga

photo-3OM
Namah Shivaya Gurave
I offer myself to the Light, the Auspicious One,
Who is the True Teacher within and without,
Saccidananda Murtaye
Who assumes the forms of Reality, Consciousness and Bliss,
Nisprapancaya Shantaya
Who is never absent and is full of peace,
Niralambaya Tejase
Independent in existence, the vital essence of illumination
OM- The Anusara invocation done at the beginning of a yoga class

It was 1976 and I thought I would be an English teacher, a social worker or a professional dancer so I sought out classes in each as an undergraduate at Arizona State University. The dance classes were filled but my eye caught a listing for something unusual: yoga. I signed up and went to my first yoga class at the ASU gym.

That choice has led to a life long passion.  Yoga has been, and continues to be, one of the constants in my life. It’s a touchstone throughout my ups and downs; a connection to my life in a way second only to my faith.

I have taken hundreds of classes in every kind of yoga in cities all around the country.  When I traveled to France a few years ago I was unable to find time to fulfill one of my life’s dreams: to take a yoga class in France, in French.  That is still one of the top three of my bucket list.

In the old days I could only find “gym yoga,”which is sort of like drinking wine out of the box when you know there is  a bottle of the good stuff out there somewhere.  Later, as yoga studios popped up, I’d catch some great classes when I was out of town on pleasure or business trips. Often I’d take my yoga clothes to mediations with me and grab a taxi across town to a yoga class I’d found with the help of the hotel concierge. When I was working for several months in California, I had my favorite studios between LA and San Diego, many close to the ocean.

I loved learning the names of the poses in Sanskrit and some classes had music. The music of Deva Premal or Krishna Das touched me deeply. Some instructors played a harmonium, which is a small pump organ. In some classes we would also chant.

When my dad was a hospice patient in my Arizona home for 7 months as he fought his last illness, the yoga was the medicine I took as I administered his.  Slipping out of the house with the hospice volunteer holding down the fort, I’d go to my favorite yoga studio.  Each day brought a different type of yoga.  There was Anusara the body alignment yoga; Ashtanga the physically demanding yoga; Vinyasa or flowing yoga; and Yin where we held poses for what seemed like hours while our bodies melted more deeply into the posture with each breath.

Back then, Anjie was my favorite teacher. She was beautiful, kind and gentle.  When she would offer a chance to move deeper by gently touching my back while I was in a seated forward fold, I could feel her energy and warmth being infused into my spine by telekenisis through her hands.

Debra, a classmate at this regular gathering of yogis and yoginis, went off to yoga training and rose from our ranks to lead us.  Her classes and music were sensual, and when she spoke in Sanskrit her voice was slow and luscious and as your body flowed to her instructions you felt beautiful, sexy and alive.

Over time Debra changed her name to D-heart (symbol), a move reminiscent of “the artist formerly known as Prince.” She paid extra attention to a young studley yogi who was one of the more bendy and supple men I have ever seen in a yoga class. Watching them side by side, moving through a vinyasa in perfect synchronicity, is indelibly etched in my mind in the same manner as a painting I once saw at the Louvre.

I was entranced with all of it: Anjie, D-heart, supple yoga man, the yin yogini who could lay in a twist over a yoga brick  and put her head on the floor and stay there until monsoon season. Yoga served as the escape from my life, my problems, the bedside care of my father and the loneliness of raising my three children while their father traveled 5 days a week with his work.

At the conclusion of every yoga class we lay on our backs in savasana, the corpse pose where the yoga you have done sinks into the marrow. Later, when FP came on the scene, I’d lay in savasana sending invisible gratitude balloons up to God.  I’d thank Him for that post asana life pulsing through every crevice of my body and for the love for my man that was shooting straight out of my heart 24/7.

After the divorce from FP, I switched to hot yoga and enjoyed being in the dark, hoping all of my sadness could be left in the puddle of sweat at my feet at the end of the practice. Tears are easily disguised amidst perspiration and tears flowed as my  body released memories and hurts stored inside it. Sadly the hot yoga teacher turned things into a yoga/exercise boot camp as the 20somethings in class joked about sweating out weekend booze.  I cringed, realizing the essence of yoga was lost on all of them.

Awhile ago, the founder of Anusara yoga was accused of ethical misconduct.  The yogi Bikram who originated a series of poses in a particular order tried to (unsuccessfully) copyright them and was accused of sexually harassing his students.  Suddenly in looking for yoga as my constant it seemed to be mimicking the rest of the world:  lost, moving away from the sacred and turning instead to exploitation and big business, drifting from what I had experienced for over 35 years as a practitioner.

Now, I continue to practice yoga regularly. I’m  content at my current studio where the beautiful owner leads many of the classes and the instructors that support her are loving and generous spirits.  On this past summer solstice I did the yoga tradition of 108 sun salutations and when I laid on my mat at the end, drenched in sweat and happy with the accomplishment, I found that the lesson that bubbled up was humility.  It’s just like yoga to surprise me with the lessons I least expect.

When I am asked to “go inside” I often close my eyes and flash through the list of those in my yoga story.  Anjie who I am told married a widower with young children and raised them as her own.  Debra/D-heart who vanished from class the same time the supple yogi did and to the best of my knowledge neither has been seen since.  Tattooed and pierced practitioners in Chicago, midlifers at a class near my daughter’s college campus, Orange County housewives in Laguna Beach and even the 20- somethings who are trying to lose weight and detox with yoga and are missing it altogether. I bless them all.

My life would not have been the same without yoga. Wanting to bring me this joy, I am certain God closed the dance class at ASU to open the door to my yoga path.

And I will someday get that yoga class done in France, in French.  And at the end, despite the language barrier, I will hear the sound that brings me home.

“Namaste.”

%d bloggers like this: