Living Happily Ever After

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Articles Written By: Andrea Merriman

A New Year, A New Life

It’s a new year–a time to reflect on the past, learn from it, and also to look forward to the new adventures, opportunities for growth and the many other “unexpected” things life brings. As such, I have reflected lately on many things. (After all, it has been almost five years since I began this blog and nearly six years since I began my unexpected life–a life I’m so busy living that I hardly have time to write about it much less share the lessons I’ve learned from it!) And after all is said and done, one memory stands out in my mind.

It was July 2009. I had just moved to Utah and was getting things settled in my new home. I entered the laundry room, closed the door to sweep behind it and came face to face with a poster left by my home’s previous occupants. (It was so perfect for my situation at that time, I wondered if they knew about me and had intentionally left it for me.) It said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Wisdom from Dr. Seuss.

I couldn’t stop the tears. (They came easily and frequently back then.) And as I stood there sobbing because of everything that had happened, crying because of everything that was over and wondering how I would ever smile again much less smile because anything had happened, I realized that should be my eventual goal and the eventual outcome for everyone living life, unexpected as many of those lives turn out to be.

Reflect on the past, learn from it, and then move forward (with a smile!) choosing to use the experiences that come to become better. Perhaps Jeffrey Holland said it best: “As a new year begins and we try to benefit from a proper view of what has gone before, I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead and remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives.”

Welcome, 2015.

Welcome, unexpected life, whatever it turns out to be.

I’ve learned for myself that every end is also a new beginning. That every life, even the unexpected ones, have the potential for joy and happiness–all it takes is moving forward, carrying on through the difficulties, never quitting, being thankful for what you DO have, and continually striving for happiness and joy no matter what happens.

Life “ain’t over till it’s over.” (Yogi Berra) So hang in there, this year and in every year to come.

And now I end this in the manner of every good story and with what I hope will always be said of me:

She lived happily ever after. (After the hard times, after the difficulties, after everything and even sometimes, despite them! Haha.)

THE END.

 

 

 

A Good Word

I had the opportunity to attend a speech by Dan Clark at BYU this week. He talked about adversity.

Dan Clark lived through some. He wanted to be a professional athlete and attended college on a football scholarship. He was projected as a number one draft choice for the NFL Oakland Raiders but cracked his 7th vertebra during a tackling drill which ended his football career. Doctors projected a 10% chance of recovery, at best, but after several years he did recover and started speaking to high schools about his recovery. He spoke for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, has written 21 books, has spoken to thousands of people around the world and has accomplished so much in the years following his “adversity”

Every life will have its share of adversity: affliction, bad break, bummer, burden, calamity, can of worms, catastrophe, challenge, crisis, crunch, difficulty, disaster, distress, downer, drag, evil eye, hard knock, hard time, hardship, hurting, ill fortune, jam, jinx, kiss of death, misery, misfortune, mishap, on the skids, pain in the neck, poison, problem, reverse, sorrow, suffering, the worst, tough luck, tragedy,  trial, trouble (or whatever you want to call it.)

But I’ve come to learn for myself it has a purpose.

“Adversity introduces us to ourselves,” Dan said. So true! You become acquainted with a lot of things during adversity–your true self is one of them. And I believe that if you choose to handle your adversity correctly and make the choice to overcome it, it will be a worthwhile introduction. Because I’ve seen it for myself and have seen it in others, as well, that “you can make setbacks, comebacks.”

“Comeback is a good word, man.” (Mickey Rourke)

 

Of Victory, Defeat…and Birthdays

“Time is everything; five minutes make the difference between victory and defeat.” (Horatio Nelson)

I celebrated my birthday yesterday. It was a WONDERFUL day, for many reasons and thanks to so many people. It was a happy day, all day, for me (and my husband, who shares my same birthday.) But then, unexpectedly, there came that moment.

That one moment when I couldn’t help but acknowledge the miracle of having such a wonderful 47th birthday…as I remembered how absolutely terrible turning 42 had been.

That lovely birthday that hit about a month after my extreme life losses and divorce in 2009, amid of a LOT of change, challenge, trauma and turmoil. I felt terrible, I looked awful, and I can’t describe the misery I experienced–feeling like a total failure in my 40s! (I don’t recommend it, haha.)

But I DO recommend hanging in there. Choosing to live anyway, despite your losses, burdens and adversities. Never give up. Get out of bed every day and accomplish something, even if it’s just getting out of bed!

Because time really is everything. And those ensuing minutes (or years, in my case) really do make the difference between defeat and victory. And victory feels so good and is literally, so SWEET.

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” (Malcolm S. Forbes)

Taste it.

 

 

The Ideal

“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” (Aristotle)
I have a few heroes. Let me tell you about one. The ideal woman. My ideal.
She is actually a Ponzi scheme victim–a victim of the Ponzi scheme my former husband perpetrated. (One extremely difficult aspect of marriage to a criminal perpetrating a Ponzi scheme unbeknownst to you or anyone else, especially when he appears to have preyed on family, friends and strangers alike, is that some of those you knew well, and loved, are victims of his crimes. I knew a few of Shawn Merriman’s victims in that way. Especially this one.)
She is a beautiful woman. In fact, her physical beauty was the first thing I noticed about her. But from the moment I met her, she was so gracious, dignified, kind and everything else…she instantly became one of my heroes. The type of woman I hoped some day to be. And then, due to a Ponzi scheme, our relationship ended.
Five years later, just last month in fact, we ran into one another. I was at work–so busy, and working in a crowd of people, I would never have seen her or known she was there. She could have easily walked past me without a word and I wouldn’t have known. But instead, and unexpectedly, I felt an arm go around my shoulders and give me a quick hug.  She kissed my cheek, quickly said something like, “You look so good! You are doing so well! I’m so proud of you!” and she was off in the crowd again before I could process what had just taken place.
Talk about dignity and grace and class. Not only making the best of circumstances but GOING OUT OF HER WAY to not just be kind, but LOVING, to the ex-wife of the man who stole her material wealth!
She remains my hero. Today (and many other days) I think of her example and I celebrate her.
“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” (Maya Angelou)
WHO IS YOUR HERO?

The Conditions for Beauty

“No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” (Oscar Wilde)
My mom emphasized true beauty, what she called “inner beauty,” and taught me it’s what is on the inside of you that counts. I believed her. And  then my unexpected life hit.
Although it happened five years ago and much of it has become a blur, I’ll never forget what a scary and dark time it was. Overwhelming. All I can say is that I did the best I could given the circumstances. I probably made some mistakes. But one thing I stand by was my intentional refusal to indulge in the vicious hatred and negativity that came my way. (I’d like to say it was a soul perfection that allowed me to take the high road. But the truth is probably closer to the fact that I was so afraid if I allowed myself to indulge in ANY hatred or anger toward anyone who treated me unjustly or betrayed me during those dark days, I might have never been able to rise above it.)
So time passed, I recovered, and I’m still living. I moved on, minus most of the trappings (and some of the friends) who chose to not remain with me. And I’ve become o.k. with all of it. And then earlier this month I had an encounter that reinforced to me, again, that I made the right choice.

One of my biggest losses from my previous spouse’s crimes and Ponzi scheme was the loss of a few friends I’d know even longer than my ex. We weren’t just friends, we were like family. They were some of my heroes–and the first phone call I made when I found out I was married to a criminal and he’d destroyed not just our family, but countless other lives. However in the waning months of my ex-husband’s crimes, their relatives had invested money with him. And he had taken it. So at my greatest time of need (and in all of the years since), they couldn’t be there for me due to the depth of destruction.

And then earlier this month, I unexpectedly ran into one of them. That friend I once knew so well was a literal stranger. In fact, I almost didn’t recognize her. Our encounter was so brief but I was shocked. She looked so different to me. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day…or maybe my mom was right: inner beauty is the only kind of beauty that matters.

It isn’t easy to develop and it certainly isn’t easy to maintain–to rise above the destructive choices of others and the events of life that can be so difficult. But it’s so worth it.

Because in the end, and despite our losses (or perhaps because of them), we will each be truly beautiful.

The Speech Concluded: ‘R’ is for Resilience

The original definition of resilience had to do with a material’s ability to resume its shape or position AFTER being bent, stretched and compressed: the ability to “bounce back.”

To help you bounce back, I recommend the following:

1. Reflect. Think about other challenges you’ve faced and how you successfully overcame them. Do those things.

2. Write about your feelings. Writing processes thoughts and feelings differently in the brain by putting words to them. Writing about something can change the way you view it. Interestingly, I heard about a 1994 study on job loss that found that participants who wrote about their loss 30 minutes each day for five consecutive days found work significantly faster than those who didn’t.

3. Find the lessons in your loss. Writing can help you do that, too. No matter how bad the circumstances ask, “What can I learn from this?” These lessons can help you avoid giving up despite setbacks, too.

4. Reinvent yourself. Sometimes, you have no other choice–you lose your entire life (like I did) and you’re forced to create a new one. If you aren’t forced to completely reinvent every aspect of a new life, learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, join a new group or meet some new people.

5. Move forward! The shortest way to the other side is through your challenge. Don’t be a pickle sucker. Get through your challenge and move on. And “suddenly” (no guarantee on how long it takes!) you’ll realize your smile is real–not something you’re faking for your children or the world. You’ll realize, with shock, you feel like your “old” self again. You’ll realize your new life is good, although not exactly the same, as the one you lost. And you’ll realize that you’re happy.

So…believe in wearing lipstick. Believe in pink.

Laugh, it’s the best calorie burner.

Be strong when everything seems to be going wrong.

Remember that happy girls are the prettiest ones.

Believe that tomorrow is another day. Believe in miracles.

And you’ll find yourself living your own personal one. Your “happily ever after.”

The Speech Continued: ‘T’ means Take the High Road

T: Take the high road

SO MUCH EASIER SAID THAN DONE! But I promise you, that through your challenge, if you take the high road you will never regret it. Life is too short to be lived with regrets. I advocate taking the high road. Every single time.

You’ll never regret choosing to be gracious, classy, or generous of spirit. You’ll never regret rising above detractors or any others who might seek to destroy you.

Bruce R. McConkie once said, “Let the little dogs bark at the passing caravan.”

Do it!

Do your best. Do all you can do. And then let the rest go.

Live your life and be happy…regardless of what others choose to say or do.

The Speech Continued: ‘F’ is Forgive

F: Forgive

I knew if I was ever going to be happy again, I had to forgive. I had to forgive my husband, I had to forgive anyone who had been unkind to me or persecuted ME because of the crimes the man I was married to had committed, I had to forgive everyone of everything. “To forgive” was the one thing I required of my children, as well.

I did this because you cannot hold on to anger, grudges, hatred or anything like that–because they’re like acid. They destroy the vessel they’re stored in. They ruin you. Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. So forgiving is one of the most important aspects of recovering, rebuilding and moving on.

Keep in mind, you may have to forgive more than once. I know I certainly have had to! It seems like recovery, and the forgiveness required to recover, is like ocean waves. The waves ebb and flow. You forgive, heal and recover…and then discover things you never knew about that you have to then process, forgive, heal and recover from! Forgiveness takes place in time, over time. Believe it or not, four-five years later, I STILL have the occasional wave. But thankfully, the waves are fewer and further between.

Don’t beat yourself up for that. Deal with those feelings when they hit, forgive, and move on.

 

The Speech Continued: ‘A’ is for Integrity

A: ALWAYS Integrity

I believe integrity will see you through anything. Be who you are, be true to yourself, be honest with yourself and others in whatever situation you may be.

Ironically, if I’d had to describe myself or the person my parents had taught me to be prior to 2009, it would have been that I was a person of integrity. Yet there I was, my entire life, family, past, future, reputation, destroyed by a man the complete opposite of that. And I’d never known that or seen that.

I never, in my life, thought integrity would be a challenge for me. However, I was shocked at some of the thoughts that came to me, to abandon my integrity, out of sheer desperation for my circumstances.

The day the U.S. Marshalls came to inventory my possessions for seizure was one of those days. While waiting for them to arrive, I actually had the thought to hide some of my jewelry. (Not that I’m a big fan of jewels. I saw my jewels simply as an asset that could be sold to help me feed my children in my desperate circumstances.) I was shocked at the thought! I was an honest person, I couldn’t believe that thought had even crossed my mind.

I dismissed it, briefly waged a silent battle within my own mind, and quickly came to the determination that I was not going to let someone else’s lack of integrity cause me to lose mine! I’d rather starve to death! (Which at the time I didn’t consider a remote possibility–I thought that’s where I was headed.) I’d also love to say that’s the only time I had that thought to be dishonest, but interestingly, I was presented with another opportunity to choose integrity regarding my jewelry within a few weeks of that initial challenge, and I had to decide, AGAIN, to choose to have integrity! Once again, I decided my integrity was worth more than anything to me.

I decided, as did the mother of Cornelius in ancient Greece, that my children were to be my jewels! My ONLY jewels. And I’m ok with that.

 

The Speech Continued: ‘R’ is for Rejuvenate

R: Rejuvenate Daily

Get the daily inspiration you need to carry on and keep going.

For me, that means prayer and scripture study. Meditation. Do what YOU need to do to rejuvenate yourself every day.

Don’t forget an important source of rejuvenation: friends and family. Rely on friends and family to remind you that you CAN do it. I’m grateful for the many friends who told I could do it. I could survive. I could rebuild and carry on and someday would be happy again.

They were right.

“True friends stab you in the front.” (Oscar Wilde)

And I’m grateful to friends who had the courage to do that, too.