Living Happily Ever After


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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 Small-Minded…And Me

“For people who have…had curve balls thrown at them, it is easier to digest change… in other people. Change only scares the small-minded. The small-minded and me.” (Casey Affleck)

I’ll never forget the time I (literally) had a curve ball thrown at me.

My husband had installed a pitching machine and batting cage in our backyard and a friend came over to test it out. Not knowing anything about said equipment, I actually got in the cage WITH HIM to watch him bat. What I also didn’t know was that my husband had cranked the pitch speed from 30 mph to 90 mph.

The machine released the first ball and my friend tipped it…straight into my nose! I’m happy to report it didn’t hurt nearly as much as it sounds like it would, but it was successful in breaking my nose.  My previously pretty decent nose was crooked and had a new bump. And then the debate began: do I fix my nose or not?

I mean, the damage to my septum was done. Straightening my nose wouldn’t fix that. And since I’m pretty much a coward when it comes to undergoing medical (and dental) procedures, I wasn’t sure I wanted to undergo a medical intervention for vanity’s sake–just to have a straight nose the rest of my life–until a friend said this: “We’re getting older. We can’t do anything about that, we can’t stop the wrinkles or gray hair, but a crooked nose is something you CAN do something about. You can fix it. So at least you won’t be looking in the mirror every day at a crooked nose AND wrinkles!” We had a good laugh over her rationale…but I did end up straightening my nose. And one year later, all aches, pain, and tenderness associated with that curve ball had gone.

And then 2009 hit. (Who knew there was a lesson for life in my broken nose?) When I got thrown a VERY UNEXPECTED curve ball as a result of my former husband’s lies, secrets and crimes, there was SO MUCH  I couldn’t fix or do anything about. But I did understand the importance of fixing what I COULD fix. So I got out of bed every single day (even though I sure didn’t want to!) I pasted a smile on my face (although I wasn’t very successful at looking happy, the grief and shock were a little too fresh and huge back then.) I faced every day, and the new and terrible challenges that came daily with a curve ball like that, and eventually, like my nose, things straightened out again and the pain went away.

Call me small-minded, I mean, it’s difficult to embrace change–especially when you don’t choose it or didn’t do anything to “deserve” it. It can be scary. But you can do it. I believe you can triumph over ANY challenge. Fix what you can. And choose a life of happiness and joy. Regardless of the crooked developments, and curve balls, that may temporarily derail your peace and joy.

And live.


And don’t fear.

The unexpected life.






Don’t Sit Home

My recent job change has reminded me of one key to success in living an unexpected life: don’t sit home and think about it! Do what you have to do. Carry on.

A few weeks ago, the night before my first day at my new job, my daughter asked, “Mom, are you afraid?”

Her question surprised me. No, I wasn’t afraid–I hadn’t even thought to be! (Quite a different experience than the last time I began a new job: 2009. And it made me realize, yet again, how far I (and my children) have come.) The last time I began a new job, I had been thrust into the middle of a giant nightmare of which probably every fear I’d ever had (rational or irrational), or that had been a part of a nightmare as I slept, or that was the worst-case-scenario from fictional Hollywood movies, were my sudden reality. (If I’m going to be honest about that time…I was afraid of practically everything! Including, even, my own name. Every time I said my name, Andrea Merriman, I  feared someone would recognize it and judge me just based on that.)

But I’ve never believed fear is permission to quit or give up, however tempting that may be. (And thankfully I had four children to provide for, to keep alive, which helped me rise above the temptation to hide!) Fear just adds to the challenge of carrying on and of living. But you still have to do it.

So I faced my fears every day. I got out of bed and went to work, no matter how difficult; and many days, it was incredibly difficult–a sick pit in my stomach every Sunday night knowing another work week lay ahead; an inability to sleep at night worrying about the coming work week and wondering how I was going to get through it; crying all the way in to work; managing to get through the work day and then crying all the way home from work; and walking in the door to begin another “full day” of work as a single mother during the evening hours, catching up on everything I’d missed during the day while at work, helping with dinner, dishes, homework, laundry, housework, reading to a child and a few attempts at new family memories as well. I confess there were nights my 3 year old didn’t go to bed until 11 p.m. and I would later fall into bed, exhausted, at 1 a.m. or later to arise a few hours later, at 6 a.m. to begin it all over again!

But I guess the point is…that we did it. We got up, we faced our fears, and eventually we triumphed over them. And at some point, the sick stomach went away, eventually I was able to sleep at night, at some point I was able to get my youngest in bed at a decent hour, and I not only did my job, but had professional success which resulted in a new opportunity. Most of all, however, I somehow “forgot” to be afraid.

“If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Get out and get busy.” (Dale Carnegie)

It worked for me.

Change Something

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” (Steve Jobs)

While I’ve always found change a challenge, I have come to an epiphany (finally! after fighting most change that has left me with the desire to kick, scream and wish it all away):

Life is SO interesting because of the very thing that makes it interesting—the unexpected life.

So whether you’re in a “lull” and enjoying days of relative peace and comfort, or if you’re in the midst of a full blown storm of adversity, I’ve learned great growth comes from change. So I’m learning to embrace it a bit more in my own life and find myself the better for it.

Don’t be afraid of it.

Remember, great things come from it. (Just keep telling yourself that as you live and face the challenges of an unexpected life.)

And see what happens in your life as you do.

I’m about to.

Big change is coming to the former Andrea Merriman.

Stay tuned.

Fear…or Courage?

I was driving in the car the other day with my middle son who asked, “Mom, what is the scariest moment of your life?” I didn’t even have to think about it: March 18, 2009. When my unexpected life began.

It turned out to be a great conversation—an opportunity for me to share my perspective on the whole thing, three years later, with my son and to remind him of some great things, wonderful blessings, that came out of that nightmare.

I finished with a reminder that no matter what happens, no matter how fearful some situations may be, you can survive them, overcome them and go on to live a wonderful life. It just takes a little courage.

“Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” (George S. Patton)

Never Quit

Last summer, my husband took me and my children to his family cabin in Colorado. It has become a much loved tradition for us: time spent away from work, cell phone service, internet, television, the hustle and bustle of life and instead, a chance to embrace the simple pleasures of life—simple meals, swimming in a river, swinging on a rope swing, biking, going for walks, bonfires, wildlife and everything that goes along with “roughing it” in a rustic setting.

My six year old spent much of his days chasing grasshoppers in the meadow after which, one night he surprised me by inviting me to tour his “Grasshopper Hotel.” I went outside to the front stoop of the cabin and saw an old coffee can and a cardboard box my son had rounded up from who-knows-where and was now using as a hotel for his grasshopper friends. I was stunned to see the popularity of his hotel, there looked to be 40 grasshoppers (or more!) in residence. I couldn’t imagine how he got them to stay—until he showed me that he removed their “jumping legs” prior to checking in to enable them to fully enjoy the hospitality of his cardboard box, coffee can and the grass and assorted weeds he picked to feed them. By bedtime, he had collected even more grasshopper customers; his hotel appeared to be teeming at maximum capacity!

The next morning my husband woke up early, went outside and was surprised to see a very plump and happy- looking bird perched on the hotel wall and EVERY SINGLE customer, but two grasshoppers, had disappeared! The bird had eaten them all.

My son was very disappointed and not too happy with the bird that had destroyed his hotel. But he went to work that very day to establish a new one: a bigger and bolder venture with more customers. I couldn’t help but think that’s how life is, or should be, if we’re living it correctly.

Life happens. Sometimes our plans get derailed or our dreams are destroyed by someone or something. Sometimes a challenge or a loss interrupts you and the plans you have made and are working toward. But do you quit? Give up? Lay down and die? Use it as an excuse for never getting past it and moving forward, stagnating or failing for the rest of your days?

I say NO.

Begin again, start over, rebuild. Carry on. Never quit. Don’t give up. Because, “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 loved through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

It isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s a nightmare. But it’s worth it in the end. So, “Let us not pray to be sheltered from the dangers but to be fearless when facing them.” (Rabindranath Tagore)

Never quit.

New Friends: The Same Question

In my unexpected life, even three and a half years later, I meet new friends all the time. Some I become acquainted with in person, a surprising number of them contact me (sometimes anonymously) in the throes of their unexpected difficulties; reaching out to someone, anyone, who might have even a slight empathy or understanding of what they’re facing in the immediate future. A cry for help.

I cried in 2009 too. I remember how alone and scared I was, especially when I was thrust into mu unexpected life. How I wished for someone, anyone, who had been through something similar to what I faced that I could share my questions and concerns with. I always make sure I respond to each new email friend because of that because if ANYTHING I’ve experienced and learned as a result can help someone else, I am happy to share!

A few contacts I’ve received may have been frauds but most, I believe, are real people facing really unexpected and really hard thing in their lives. They’re terrified. But ALL have asked the same question:

How did you do it? How did you survive it?

And my answer is always the same.

To lay down and die, quit, give up, fall off the deep end or any other similar reaction was NOT a choice for me—personally, or for my family situation. That isn’t the way I was raised; that isn’t what I believe the correct response to tragedy or hardship is; and I was a mother with children who deserved a life, and to live (they had their whole lives ahead of them) so I had to make sure they got to live their futures despite the bummer it was that we hit a nightmare of a rough patch in 2009!

In addition to all of the above, fairy tale fan that I always have been, I couldn’t stand the thought of anything but a “happily ever after,” for me, my children or any other life.

As difficult as it may be, you can’t quit or give up when hard things happen. You have to carry on AND LIVE; seek a “happily ever after” no matter the antagonist to your personal story.

After all, “If you can see the magic in a fairy tale, you can face the future.” (Danielle Steele)


Or Maybe?

Or maybe the secret to life is…simply facing your fears.

My unexpected life was replete with ALL of my lifelong fears and many more I’d never even dreamed of, not even in my worst nightmare, all combined into one fantastically devastating, horrific experience that included, all at the same time, betrayal, crime, a double life, negative publicity, divorce, single motherhood, poverty, loss of home, loss of pretty much everything of worldly value, unemployment, financial devastation and a few other things I shall refrain from detailing.

What do you do when you’re handed your nightmare on a platter of poverty and publicity?

Accept it. You can’t escape it, so deal with it.

Conquer it. Keep at it until you overcome the mountains in your path. (Work at it every single day for as long as it takes to find happiness and joy, to live, again.)

I think THAT is the secret.

“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


The Open Book of My Life

“We do not need to proselytise either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.” (Mahatma Gandhi)

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to graduate students of Brigham Young University’s business school who were studying fraud and ethics. The professor who invited me asked me to share my story and my thoughts on how fraud happens and how good people can get caught up in it. I’ve written about my experience quite a bit, I’ve spoken about it to various audiences quite a lot, but it was a different experience to ponder what to say when my life was an open book for all to study in an academic setting!

Here are some highlights from what I shared. I began by introducing myself with Part One of the 2010 Colorado 9News story by Cheryl Preheim. Then I said, “Well, there you have it. That’s me. I’m Andrea Merriman and I’m here today to talk about what it’s like after almost 20 years of marriage, four children, and what I thought was a wonderful life of world travel, financial prosperity, community and church service to have my life and my world collapse in one unexpected moment, the result of something I never EVER imagined would be a part of my life: FRAUD.

It was the worst nightmare I could never have imagined, only unfortunately, it was very real and sadly, it was now my life. You could title it:

Hold On—I’ve Never Smoked, Tasted Alcohol, Tried Drugs or Cheated in School, This Can’t Be Happening To Me!

No Way! I’m A Cougar Club Member and Have $10 Million In The Bank, I Can’t Be Penniless

I’ve Never Stolen A Thing In my Life, Not Even A Grape From the Grocery Store Without Paying For It

But the reality is titled more like this:

Think and Grow Rich…With A Ponzi Scheme

How To Win Friends and Influence People…Then Spend The Best Years of Your Life Behind Bars

What To Expect When You’re Expecting…5-7 Years and Get More Than The Max

Gone With The Wind…And The U.S. Marshalls

Crime and Punishment

From BYU to Federal Prison in 16 “Easy” Years

In truth, however, it’s much worse. You lose every material thing in your life, you lose the immaterial things like your good name and reputation, your wife, your children, your family and your friends, and then on top of that, you lose your entire life and your freedom, as well.

So what does all of this have to do with you? You may be sitting comfortably in your seats knowing you’re eagle scouts, you practice your religion, you’re at BYU living the honor code… something like this could never happen to you. Twenty-two years ago, I was just like you.

So how does this happen? How did a decent man fall so far? How did he do what he did to himself, to me, to his children, to his family, and to his victims?

I was interviewed by the MSNBC show, ‘American Greed’ recently and they asked basically the same question: How does a Ponzi scheme take place? How does a person get caught up in fraud that results in crime? How does it happen?

My answer?

One component of fraud is fear—fear of failure, fear of having to tell others you’ve failed, fear of losing your reputation for success by failing at something, fear of loss of job…But I also believe that selfishness, greed and pride are at the heart of it. You can’t commit fraud without them.

I also don’t believe every criminal sets out with the intent to commit a crime. I think there are good people who make a mistake, try to ‘fix it’ and fail and then choose to cover it up as they continue to work to fix it, but it’s too late. The MOMENT you ignore a mistake or attempt to disguise or try to hide even a small error is the moment your fraud begins.

Dieter Uchtdorf taught ‘Small Errors Can Have a Large Impact on Our Lives.’ He related it to airplanes and flight, but I believe it has application in business as well. He said, ‘The difference of a few degrees may seem minor. But even small errors over time can make a dramatic difference.  Suppose you were to take off from an airport at the equator, intending to circumnavigate the globe, but your course was off by just one degree. By the time you returned to the same longitude, how far off course would you be? A few miles? A hundred miles? An error of only one degree would put you almost 500 miles off course. Guard against the many little rationalizations, little white lies, misleading statements that are true but maybe not the whole truth, and courageously stay the ethical course.’

Stay on the straight and narrow path professionally and personally. (By the way, I believe ‘narrow path’ is no exaggeration.) It’s a narrow path, and when you start rationalizing and messing with the boundaries of it, you’re quickly into the gray and questionable area. And when you step off the clearly defined track of righteousness, it’s a very slippery and surprisingly short fall to the mists of darkness and impropriety.

In addition to correcting your course immediately and frequently, keep your heart in the right place. Lock your heart against things with no eternal value. Do whatever you need to do to keep your heart and your priorities in the right place in the workplace and in your professional endeavors. It can be pretty heady to go from college poverty making $4.90/hour (what I made when I was at BYU) to after graduation making $18k/month—I know, because that was my experience; that’s what my former husband made as an investment banker right out of college in the days when he was a law abiding citizen, prior to creating his Ponzi scheme.

Check your greed. Because at some point, close to $20k/month wasn’t enough. He had to have more and more and more until he sold out his wife, his children and his soul for money. Don’t make that mistake.

How do you prevent a fall like the one that destroyed my ex-husband? I think Mosiah (in the Book of Mormon) said it best: “But this much I can tell you, that if ye do not watch yourselves and your thoughts and your words and your deeds and observe the commandments of God and continue in the faith of what ye have heard…even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember and perish not.”

I apologize for the seriousness of my comments today, but I not only feel very strongly about the importance of living a life of integrity, I’ve lived through the nightmare that results when a person fails to do that professionally. So here’s my last bit of advice, courtesy of Benjamin Franklin, before you depart, as many of you graduate and go forth not only to serve but to establish your career, demonstrate to the world of business what you’ve been taught, what Brigham Young University is about and what you stand for:

‘Let no pleasure tempt thee, no profit allure thee, no persuasion move thee, to do anything which thou knowest to be evil; so shalt thou always live jollity; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas.’

Your career and the rest of your life will be what you make of it—make them ethical, keep them fraud free and make sure every workday is, as Benjamin Franklin advised, a continual Christmas through your hard work and ethical business decisions. Thank you for letting me share a little bit of my story with you today. My best wishes and good luck to you all in your futures.”

There was a brief question and answer session afterward. As I drove home after it, I was struck by the thought that again, another unexpected experience has been mine. Had anyone told me in March 2009 when my world ended in a moment that three years later I’d not only be blogging about my unexpected life but also speaking to various groups and organizations about it, including Brigham Young University, I would NEVER have believed them!

Life is great, isn’t it? Hard, but full of amazing experiences. Never forget that wonderful blessings and moments are born of adversity, even from those challenges you can’t comprehend surviving much less enduring. I met some great people that day of my BYU speech—sharp college students with their futures ahead of them, children of friends and blog readers from Colorado, a successful businessman, BYU professor Mark Zimbelman and his cute teenage daughter.

Prior to my speech, the businessman asked me if I was nervous or if it was difficult to speak about my experience. No, it isn’t difficult. But here’s what apparently is: ”There are two things that are more difficult than making an after-dinner speech: climbing a wall which is leaning toward you and kissing a girl who is leaning away from you.” (Winston Churchill)