Living Happily Ever After

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The Speech Continued: ‘V’ is for View

V: View Your Blessings

Count them. Find something to be grateful for each day. Even if it’s just one thing! Some days, honestly, the only things I counted as my blessing was that I was still breathing or that I hadn’t had a heart attack from the stress.

And believe it or not, there came a time when I looked at where I’d been, all that I’d gone through, everything I’d learned, and everything I’d become as a result of my nightmare and I actually had the thought, “Wow. That was terrible to go through, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I would go through everything again to be where I’m at now and to learn the things I’ve learned.”

And eventually you may even get to the point where you’re grateful for your challenge, because you see that your challenge, or some part of it, in the end, saves you.

I remember reading about Corrie Ten Boom and her sister who were imprisoned in a WWII concentration camp. In her book “The Hiding Place,” she said the housing provided them was swarming with fleas. They found comfort in the Bible, they said it seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck concentration camp: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances…”

Her sister said, “Give thanks in all circumstances! That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” Corrie stared at her sister and asked, “Such as?”

“Thank you,” her sister Betsy went on serenely, “for the fleas. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. “It doesn’t say ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are a part of this place.”

To they were thankful for fleas, although Corrie was sure her sister was wrong about them. And then one day they discovered the reason they enjoyed as much freedom from concentration camp guard harassment was become of the fleas–the guard wouldn’t enter their barracks because of the fleas!

Find SOMETHING, ONE THING, each day to be grateful for. Even if it’s that you’re still breathing. Even if it’s fleas.

“But was there ever dog that praised his fleas?” (William Butler Yeats)

I think there should have been.

The Speech Continued: ‘E’ is for Every Day

E: Every Day–Make is a Success!

Get out of bed every day and face your life, as much as you dread the day or hate doing that. And work to accomplish just ONE THING each day.

If you do that, you’re a success. Some days, getting out of bed will be your great accomplishment. And that’s ok! Good for you!

Some days are just that rough.

“My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.” (Cary Grant)

The Speech Continued: ‘Y’ is Your Kids

I was overwhelmed with all of the questions I faced that most terrible of days in my life. I had the world–government agents, U.S. attorneys, family, friends, my husband–asking me, “WHAT are you going to do?” And I didn’t have a clue. I had no idea WHAT I was going to do.

In a moment, every single part of my life, my present, my past, and my future, had become a disaster. I was alone, thrust into the most terrifying darkness, and I didn’t know anything. Except that I was going to do what was best for my children. No matter what that meant for me or anyone else.

A counselor friend called that first day to try to help me. He asked me the question of the day (“What are you going to do?”) and I told him my answer: I didn’t know what I was going to do but I did know I was going to do what was best for my children. And he said something like this. “That is brilliant. I wish everyone in crisis would do that and we’d have a lot less messed up kids who grow up to become adults who fail.”

So that’s what I did.

Every decision was made with them in mind. Right or wrong those choices may have been, I really tried to put my children first and to do what I thought was best for them.

The results? All four of my children are living life fully, they’re enjoying successes at their various ages, and are remarkably happy and well adjusted. You would NEVER know the horrors they’ve lived through or the challenges they’ve overcome. One example: During my daughter’s senior year of high school as she was walking down the hall between classes, she happened to overhear the conversation of some girls in front of her. (They didn’t know she was behind them.) The girls were complaining, “Sarah Merriman is SO LUCKY. Everything good always happens to Sarah Merriman. We wish we could be Sarah!” If those girls only knew.

My daughter and I had a good laugh over that one!

“I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” (Audrey Hepburn)

The Speech Continued: ‘L’ is for Laugh

L: Laugh

In my opinion, if you’re going to survive any life, especially an unexpected one, a sense of humor is indispensable! There are certain shades of limelight that can wreck a girl’s complexion…I know! I lived them! National media attention, public speculation, criminal trials, hatred, vengeance, shock and grief and horror and betrayal can all take their terrible toll on your appearance!

Sometimes the only thing you CAN do is to laugh.

“No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few sounds.” (Red Skelton)

Studies show:

Laughter combats fear (it changes your perspective), laughter comforts, it’s a healthy reaction to stress (it reduces three stress hormones), it reduces pain (releases endorphins, it boosts the immune system and bodily functions (like exercise, it improves muscle capacity), and it makes you feel good–even if only for a few invaluable seconds.

In life, you can choose to laugh or cry–I choose to laugh!” (Marjorie Hinckley)

 

The Speech Continued: ‘P’ is for Plan

P: Plan

When I was a teenager, my dad was killed in an airplane crash. I remember thinking it was the absolute worst thing in the world that could ever happen. My mom (ever one to look on the bright side–if you find my optimism offensive, blame her!) consoled me by saying, “But at least we love him and he loved us and he’s still part of our family. It would have been so much worse if he’d betrayed or abandoned us.” (So that pretty much established in my mind that the absolute worst thing that could ever happen was a husband and father who betrayed his family.)

As a teen, and as a result of my dad’s death, we also lost our home and money. Which helped create my greatest fear: to ever lose my home for any reason.

And for some reason, I was also terrified to ever be responsible for another human being by myself. For that reason, I hadn’t had children until after my husband and I had graduated from college and he was firmly established in a successful career.

And then my unexpected life hit.

My unexpected life is 100% comprised of my worst fears and biggest nightmares: husband betrays wife, loss of home, loss of money, and just another person to be responsible for–FOUR CHILDREN TO PROVIDE FOR AND RAISE! Hmm…isn’t that interesting?

On the bright side, there IS something “freeing” in having your worst fears realized. I can’t think of anything that embarrasses me, or that I’m afraid of, any more!

JK Rowling once said, “I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized, and I still had a daughter I adored, I had an old typewriter and I had a big idea. Rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Rock bottom IS a solid foundation on which to rebuild.

Again, plan what you CAN do, fix or change.

Never settle for less than a happy ending for yourself.

And when one avenue you think my be your new happily ever after turns into a brick wall, course correct and carry on again until you have it.

Never allow yourself  to lay down and die, figuratively or otherwise, as much as you might want to sometimes. Quitting doesn’t get you to happily ever after. Never has, never will.

The Speech Continued: ‘A’ is for Accept

A: Accept

Life isn’t fair. Just accept it, along with your terrible challenge.

Thankfully, probably none of us get what we truly deserve–for good or bad:)

Don’t look back. That won’t change anything.

Don’t indulge in “If Only.” A very wise man, Thomas S. Monson, once said something like, “If Only are the two most useless words in the English language. Don’t say them.”

Don’t let yourself indulge in that completely unproductive wishing that will only make you feel worse. Focus on what you CAN do, what you CAN control, what you CAN fix or change.

And do it.

The Speech Continued: ‘H’ is for Hang On

H: Hang On.

Don’t walk off into the sunset, disappear into the horizon and drop off the face of the earth as much as you may want to! Don’t lay down and die (like I really wanted to!)

“The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit.” (Morgan Freeman)

So hang on!

The reality is: if you hang on long enough and hang in there strong enough, eventually you’ll see light again. And when the dust settles, it USUALLY doesn’t end up QUITE as bad as you initially think it will. For example, I seriously believed at worst case scenario, I was innocent but would be sent to prison anyway; and at best case, I would be homeless–living in a cardboard box somewhere under a bridge. (It was me and my four kids, so I was envisioning a refrigerator-sized box!) The reality? Yes, I lost my life, my home, my husband, my intact family, many friends, my reputation, every material possession of value (including my wedding ring and most of the gifts my husband had ever given me); yes, I had to go to work and will have to work until the day I die; yes, I WILL be living paycheck to paycheck the rest of my life…but there IS a paycheck, there IS a roof over my head and there IS food for my children. We’re ok!

You CAN do it.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along!’ You MUST do the thing you THINK you cannot do.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Embrace your horror! Really, what else is there to do?

Own your story, whatever it is, and I promise you, someday you’ll be living with happiness and joy. Again.

The Speech, Part III

Long story short, within days U.S. Marshalls descended on my home and inventoried my possessions, anything of value, for seizure. Victims contacted the media. U.S. attorneys broke the news and my home was soon surrounded with media satellite trucks from across the country, shining spotlights on my home and into my windows night and day, filming every move, looking in my windows, knocking on my door.

Victims appeared at my home and screamed and yelled the worst of things at me and my children for the things my husband had done. One victim loaded a gun and made it all the way to my front door, prepared to blow someone away, before changing his mind. Federal agents seized everything of value. Hate mail came from across the country. And public speculation ran rampant–even about me. Of course I had to have know, of course I was probably involved; you name it, if it was hostile, hateful, untrue or anything of that nature…someone thought it and shared it with the world via the media. Victims even entered my home one night and terrorized my teenage daughter.

I had a matter of weeks to put together a life for my children and I. Thankfully, I found a job. (It didn’t cover all of our living expenses, but at least it was something!) I divorced my husband–I had no money, so I wrote my own divorce to the best of my ability and with the help of a friend, and went to court to have it finalized.

My ex-husband was taken into custody and eventually sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. And I began to claw and crawl my way out of the deepest, darkest, blackest pit of destruction and despair I could never have imagined. Lets just say it’s not quite the happily ever after I EVER dreamed of as a young girl (or at any time of my life, for that matter!)

But I was raised on fairy tales. I still enjoy them! I believe in happy endings and that a happily ever after is possible for everyone, regardless of their challenges.

So today I’d like to share my formula for HAPLY EVR AFTR (™), courtesy of my unexpected life. It comes not from a fairy godmother, but from living through and recovering from an indescribable horror–we all have one, don’t we?

It worked for me. And it can work for you, too!

(Sorry to drag this on, but tune in again tomorrow and in the coming days for the good stuff–HAPLY EVR AFTR!)

“That’s when the great stuff happens…” (Carol Kane)

The Speech, Part II

(The next part is my story in a nutshell. I was speaking to a large conference of women I hadn’t met yet so I had to preface my remarks with my story. Feel free to skip if you already know me!)

I had been a pretty good girl…raised on fairy tales. I believed in happily every after. I grew up Colorado. I graduated from high school, attended college and married a charming, romantic and “good” man who, ironically, and as part of his marriage proposal, pledged his loyalty to me and our future. The day of my college graduation we returned to Colorado and began our life. We began our careers, we began our family. I focused my efforts on our home and family, we eventually had four children, and life was good. SO GOOD.

It was a life of family and faith. We loved each other, we went to church together, we prayed together, we served in the community as well, and as my husband became more and more successful in his career, we upgraded our home, our cars and our lifestyle. We enjoyed making family memories and traveling together. We got along well, we laughed and had fun together, we served and helped others. I thought we were on track for eternity.

Believe it or not, I had watched our investments and savings grow over the 20 years we’d been married, working hard (I thought) and saving…and I also thought I had 10 MILLION DOLLARS–thanks to compounding interest:) So on March 17, 2009, St. Patrick’s Day, my biggest worry was making sure everyone wore green, felt festive (I’d tried to do my part to contribute to that with green breakfast and a green dinner) and I took pictures of everyone in their leprechaun finery. What I didn’t know, was that I was documenting my family and the life I’d dreamed of and had worked so hard to create during my 20-years-of-happy marriage, in photos, for the last time.

At the end of the day, we went to bed. I slept–the last night I slept without anything to haunt me or give my nightmares about. And the next day, my husband shattered my world. March 18, 2009. He asked to meet me, told me he’d hoped to spend time with me.

Then he sat across from me, folded his hands and paused. And then, in a voice as calm and unemotional as I’d ever witnessed–NOTHING about his performance tipped me off as to what was about to happen, said, “My company, Market Street Advisors, is a sham.” One simple sentence, and the complicated web of choices, actions, and decisions of ONE person, the man I’d known since 1988 but apparently hadn’t known at all, shattered my world.

My first thought (always a party or holiday thought at that stage of my life!) was, “Is this an early April Fool’s joke? Doesn’t he remember yesterday was only St. Patrick’s Day?” And suddenly, despite my education and knowledge of English and vocabulary, I didn’t understand the world “sham.” He explained, “My company isn’t real. It’s a sham and has been from the very beginning. I’ve been running a Ponzi scheme for the past 16 years.”

I’d heard the term Ponzi scheme, but I didn’t know what a Ponzi scheme actually was. I’d heard the name Bernie Madoff, I knew he had done something illegal and I knew a lot of people were mad at him, but I didn’t understand what it was that he, or my spouse, had done. I got the condensed version. What I was told left me in complete and utter shock. But it didn’t stop there.

My husband told me he had hired an attorney, that he had turned himself in to government authorities and to our church leaders, and that they had all given him until that morning to tell me. He told me he would be going to prison and getting excommunicated from our church. He told me everything had been seized. He told me I would be left alone to raise our children. And he told me I needed to hire an attorney right away–but he’d maxed out all of our credit cards paying for his.

I, who had never cheated in school; who had never stolen so much as a grape from the grocery store without paying for it; who had always tried to live a life of honesty and integrity–wouldn’t even let myself indulge in “white lies”…needed an attorney? I was completely innocent! Like his employees, clients, family, friends and our church leaders, I’d never had a clue that he was anything but the honest, upright, family man and successful businessman he had always portrayed himself to be.

I had NO IDEA he’d been living a secret and double life.

All I could think of was that my parents were dead, I was left with NOTHING (no house, no cars, no food, no life, no savings, no job, no husband–TOTALLY alone in the world), I had four children who needed to eat, and I couldn’t get that movie “The Fugitive” out of my mind: the innocent husband, a good man, a doctor, who was convicted of killing his wife and imprisoned for something he hadn’t done and that he had no knowledge of. HOW could this be happening to ME?

I was shocked. I was stunned. I was confused. I was scared. I was devastated. And at the same time, I didn’t know what I thought or felt. All I knew was that I had been thrown out of an airplane…without a parachute. And as shocked as I was, for some reason, I had the presence of mind to ask, “Is that everything?”

Yet despite everything, I was not prepared for his response: No. After which he disclosed he had also betrayed me in the most intimate ways as well. And with that admission, he began to sob. To cry harder than I’d ever seen any man cry. And that’s when I knew it was real. It wasn’t early April Fool’s. It was some sick joke that everyone but me found funny. It was real.

As wave after wave of shock and grief washed over me, I didn’t know what to do. He had become an instant and literal stranger, yet on the other hand, I was still the happily married wife who, as I rushed to get up and to get away from him, actually felt guilty that I was abandoning him in a time of need. Despite my shock, I actually had the presence of mind to apologize for leaving him: “I’m sorry, but I have to get out of here.”

And I left. I jumped in my car and drove away, not knowing where to go, knowing no one could help me. I made it about 1/10 of a mile before I was crying so hard I couldn’t see anything and had to pull over so I didn’t accidentally hurt someone or myself!

I called my best friend. She was stunned, crying, as well and advised me to go to the bank and try to get some money so I could at least feed my children. I raced to the banks, got some cash, and eventually returned home because I didn’t know what else to do or where to go.

My husband’s attorney called. He apologized for the day I was having (he’d known it was coming–seems like everyone but me knew it was coming!), told me, again, that I’d need an attorney, and then said, “And whatever you do, don’t go near a bank. Don’t touch any of your bank accounts. Don’t try to access any money!” he warned.

Are you starting to tell I just am not cut out for the criminal life? My instincts are all wrong! The very FIRST thing I had done, the only thing, was to go to a bank and touch some money!

I was going to prison for sure, wasn’t I?

“There are many times when a woman will ask another girl friend how she likes her new hat. She will reply, ‘Fine.’ but slap her hands to her forehead the minute the girl leaves to yipe, ‘What a horror!’” (Marilyn Monroe)

Yes, I wish that’s all my horror entailed. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the condensed version of my horror.

 

The Speech, Part I

“Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” (Oprah Winfrey)

Everyone struggles. Everyone has a story. And the stories can be incredibly overwhelming and difficult.

Infertility, job loss, abuse, sickness, betrayal, death, pornography, crime…or a combination of one or more or ALL these together and more!

So I have to tell you I BELIEVE IN BEING HAPPY. I always have! (And despite my personal struggles with things I’ve had to overcome, I still do.) Either my parents did a REALLY good job teaching me that I was meant to be happy, or I was born that way, because even as a teenager I tried to live by these inspiring words from Martha Washington:

“I believe in being happy in whatever situation I may be. For I know that our happiness or misery, in large part, depends upon our attitude and not our circumstances.”

I’m older now. I’ve lived a long time and I’ve lived THROUGH a lot. But my philosophy is still optimistic and hopeful, and it’s very simlar to Audrey Hepburn’s:

“I believe in wearing lipstick. I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be join wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.”

I personally believe there is a miracle for every person. Actually, I believe, no, I KNOW, there are many tender mercies and miracles for each one of us. And perhaps the greatest miracle of all: I believe no matter what has happened, it IS possible to rise from the ashes of devastation and rebuild.

It IS possible to overcome anything and everything.

It IS possible to be happy again.

It isn’t what happens to you, IT’S WHAT YOU DO WITH IT, that matters.

Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on you.

Opportunities for growth and happiness lie in the most unexpected places. I call mine “The Unexpected Life.”

(Tune in tomorrow–and in coming days–for more of the speech!)