Living Happily Ever After


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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)

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.

The Rest of…the Trip

“That ends this strange eventful history…” (William Shakespeare)

I was in Colorado  less than 48 hours. But I conquered all the major hurdles:

1. I drove the streets of Denver, Aurora and Centennial, Colorado (all the areas of my old stomping ground and life) and I felt great! I didn’t feel homesick, I didn’t feel like I didn’t belong there, I didn’t have an urge to cry…I just felt like I was in a place I knew very well and enjoyed. I felt welcome!

2. I drove to my former home. And I felt…nothing. I didn’t feel homesick, I didn’t feel loss, I didn’t have an urge to cry… I felt nothing but peace.

3. Although I didn’t get a chance to see a majority of the friends I would have loved to have seen, I got to see several people I love and have missed.

4. I even had the privilege of seeing and speaking with a few victims of my former husband. They could not have been kinder or more gracious to me. (There are some really good people in the world!)

5. I realized that I can, and want, to return for a visit again someday. (And I want to bring my children, too!)

And then, all too soon, it was off to the airport again and a quick flight back to Salt Lake City. I arrived home–everything looked the same yet everything was completely different. I went to work the next day–everything looked the same yet EVERYTHING was different.

I was different. I had conquered the last hurdle from my unexpected life. Consider me recovered!  But I’ll refrain from adding “The End” to this story. Because there never is one to…the unexpected life.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” (Winston Churchill)

The Most Glorious Task

“To be doing good deeds is man’s most glorious task.” (Sophocles)

Perhaps I’ve been inspired by all of the Facebook posts about things people are grateful for this month, or maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is this week, but whatever the inspiration…I’m thinking about good deeds lately. Especially the importance of doing some for others. A few that have touched my life. And my gratitude for the doers of them.

One that stands out in my mind took place in 2009. My children and I had lost our world, we didn’t have much in the way of money or material goods, so we were living off of our “food storage” (the food we’d collected in our pantry over time) as much as we could. For almost four months, we utilized what we had and supplemented it with minimal grocery shopping or the goodwill of friends who’d call and ask, “I’m running to the grocery store, is there anything you need?”

Most of the time, I told people we were fine, living off our food storage as much as we could and that we had food to eat. All of which was true. We didn’t starve. But, out of necessity, we stuck to the basics and did without the “fun extras” (like fresh fruit) or “fun food,” food that is generally processed and/or costs more.

And then one day a friend pulled into my driveway with her car—the passenger seat, the back seat and the trunk— filled with “fun food” from Costco! All the things kids love but don’t get when their family is living off of their food storage. Mickey Mouse-shaped chicken nuggets, fruit snacks, chips, crackers, cookies, juice, fresh fruit, etc…was hauled from the car, piled on our kitchen counter, and enjoyed thoroughly by my family—especially our three-year-old and his hungry older brothers.

I’ll never forget that. A bright spot in an otherwise very challenging time. When I think of good deeds, I always think of that experience and the time we were the beneficiary of someone’s most glorious task.


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)



“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” (Barbara Bush)

In conjunction with my Las Vegas business trip, I was asked to speak at our corporate event there regarding the philanthropic effort of our company (one of the areas I manage.)

Service is something I’ve always been passionate about, particularly since there were moments upon entering my unexpected life I wasn’t sure how my children and I would have survived without a little help from our friends (and even some strangers) who delivered food to us, made meals for us, gave us cash, sent gift cards, left a thoughtful treats on the porch, wrote notes of encouragement, smiled at us (when it felt like nobody was), made my first Mother’s Day post-Ponzi scheme not just bearable but beautiful and joyful, tended my children while I attended to the details of wrapping up a life…I can’t even list all the ways we were blessed by (and continue to be blessed) by service from others!

For that and many reasons, I was happy to do it and was grateful for the opportunity to talk about making a difference in the world. I am certainly the grateful beneficiary of so many people who have had an influence for good in my life.

I was thankful to do it, that is, until they announced my name, I walked out into the glare of the lights, on stage…and faced over 4,000 people! That’s a pretty big crowd. I don’t think I’d ever spoken to more than a crowd of 1,200 or so people prior to that in my life! Whew! In moments like that, it’s nice to have a monitor prompting you (reminding you) what you had planned to say before your mind went blank at the sight of so many people.

However, despite the emptiness of thought I temporarily experienced, I did have the presence of mind to think this, like I have so many times: “If someone had told me in 2009 that THIS was an experience that would be coming to me just a few years later and courtesy of my unexpected life, I’d never have believed them! Like the Ponzi scheme my former husband perpetrated, I never saw it coming.”

There is a LOT of good in my new life. SO MUCH happiness and joy. So many unexpected opportunities I’d never have had. Tender mercies I’d never have known. Things I may never have learned and certainly things I’d never have known I was capable of surviving, much less doing and accomplishing. I realized something:

I’m grateful for the detours.

“…Believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.” (Michael York)

It’s a pretty nice view in the unexpected life. How’s yours?

If They Could Read

“In Hollywood, the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.” (Will Rogers)

I live in Utah now, not Hollywood, and I enjoy the woods up Provo Canyon my fair share.

Just two years ago I lost everything I thought was my life, except my four children, and had to make sense of the unexpected events handed me. I had the world’s share of shame, humiliation and unwanted publicity; my fair share of ups and downs, failures and successes; but I realized again, with each passing day, that life is always a choice and your life will be exactly what you make of it. (Granted, sometimes you’re blessed with better material to work with than at other times, but you can always choose to find happiness and to experience joy regardless of your life conditions. You can always strive to look on the bright side and to treat others with kindness despite the misery of your current situation. )

In this blog I’ve explained some of what I’ve lived through, how I’ve chosen to respond and why I’ve done the things I’ve done and any and all mistakes that I have made. I’ve shared all that I’ve hoped for and worked toward, the unexpected experiences I never imagined I’d have, the things I’ve learned and their outcomes. And while I know not every unexpected life results in a happy ending of complete and utter perfection, I believe you can choose to create your own fairy tales and live happily ever after.

For example, Cinderella lived through a lot of hard stuff. It’s not fun being left penniless (been there, done that!), orphaned (I can relate to that) and at the mercy of a wicked stepmother. Cinderella, with the help of her fairy godmother and her friends (mice and other farm animals) did find her handsome prince, yet she never got her mom or dad back in this life–not every thing, not every aspect, of Cinderella’s unexpected life became total perfection at the end of her story, but she did live happily ever after.

I’m grateful for that example. Fairy tales are magical. They’re great stories. They’re a wonderful escape. They give us hope. And they can teach us important things. As I look back at my life and the countless hours I spent in the nurture of fairy tale fiction, I realize fairy tales helped give me dreams; they gave me something to set my little girl sights on, so that when I grew up and and was thrust into the worst nightmare I never imagined possible, I had all of those fictional examples of triumph over tragedy, all of those imaginary happily ever afters, to help me hold on and cling to the real dreams I’d once had. They gave me courage to press forward and keep going, to create a new chapter of my story and to live a new version of my happily ever after.

A happy ending doesn’t mean complete and total restoration of what you had before. Instead, I believe it is embracing what you have now been given, looking for the good, and choosing to be happy in your new story while working to create a new and continuing happy ending for yourself and your loved ones.

It was the same with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rose Red, Thumbelina, The Goose Girl and every other fairy tale heroine. Not necessarily a “perfect” ending, but a fairy tale perfect for them.

THAT is life.

Every single one.

Every unexpected one, because I believe we all have one.

But enough of that. Never let it be said that I can’t read–or understand Will Rogers’ wisdom–so I’ll close with this:

My undying thanks to everyone who was there for me in my old life, when my mostly-perfect world fell apart, during my divorce, and as I began a new life. Thanks to all who helped my children, who helped me, who shared our journey in person or via this blog, and for every single person who reached out to me and my family and shared their love and kindness with us. Every single one of you is known and remembered by us. Every single kindness will never be forgotten. We are better because of each of you.

In fact, we made it, thanks to you.

We’re going to live happily ever after.

The End.

As in, that’s the end of this portion of my story. Feel free to check in for occasional posts about life and my entirely new and unexpected life experiences in remarriage and as a stepmother. Like every other aspect of the unexpected life, it’s completely uncharted territory. I’m sure I’ll make my fair share of mistakes along the way, the only thing I can promise about all of it is that I’ll NEVER intentionally be a wicked stepmother! And I have a feeling, if it goes the way everything else has, it’s going to be quite another unexpected ride!

Written In Pencil

“Friends will write me letters. They run out of room on the front of the letter. They write ‘over’ on the bottom of the letter–like I’m that much of a moron; like I need that there. Because if it wasn’t there, I’d get to the bottom of the page: ‘And so Kathy and I went shopping and we–’ That’s the craziest thing! I don’t know why she would just end it that way.” (Ellen Degeneres)

I asked my former husband for THE letter.

He asked me why I wanted it. I told him the truth: I wanted the peace of mind it would give me. Since neither of us knew what the future held, or where he was going, I told him I didn’t want to someday need it and not be able to find him or reach him.

He said, “Tell me, would you use that letter today if you could?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Absolutely.”

In reality, though, I couldn’t. You can’t apply for a cancellation until you have the opportunity to marry someone else. But I needed him to know I felt there was no chance for reconciliation.

So he wrote one.

It was in pencil (prison inmates aren’t allowed to have pens). Written in October 2009. Mailed from a Colorado jail.

When it arrived, I opened it, read it and put it away never thinking I’d need it. It was a very nice letter, though, and I appreciated his willingness to write it. Later, he called me, collect, to discuss it.

I saw how hard it must have been for him to write that letter because he told me some untrue ramifications of me using that letter. I knew they were the last efforts of a sinking ship to attempt to rescue itself, I guess, but I had had it. I had been lied to for too long by the man, too many times; we were divorced; he wasn’t my husband; I didn’t feel an obligation to “obey” him any longer and I wasn’t going to stand for one single additional lie. So I called him on it:”That’s not true, ” I said. “That is a lie. You’ve lied to me for the LAST time!”

He said, “You’re right. I’m sorry.”

And that was that.

I kept the letter in a drawer for the next 6 months. And then one day, unexpectedly, I needed it. I sat in my pastor’s office, handed the letter to him, and he told me he’d have to check to see if it could be used in conjunction with my application because it hadn’t been requested via certified mail, it had been sent directly to me and it had been written a few months earlier.

“I get mail; therefore I am.” (Scott Adams) 


What Miracle Is Wrought

“Don’t rush me sonny. You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” (“The Princess Bride”)

Not long ago, I was reviewing my unexpected life; pondering all that has happened and the many miracles I have received since March 18, 2009. There have been many.

Although, it’s funny what you become accustomed to. For awhile, my situation was so desperate I was blessed with huge miracle after miracle. They almost became “the norm!” Then I realized it had been awhile since I’d experienced a jaw dropping miracle so I thought, “That must be a sign that I’m healing and things are getting back to normal. I guess I must not need many big miracles any more.” (And I admit there was a tiny part of me that was sad miracles, for me, had ceased. I felt like I still needed a little help!)

I should have known better.  ”Miracles happen everyday, change your perception of what a miracle is and you’ll see them all around you.” (Jon Bon Jovi)

The other day, one of my cute, single college student co-workers shared a miracle she received with me: someone purchased a plane ticket for her to fly to visit her family at Christmas. She was so touched, and so grateful, she felt like crying! I was happy for her, and full of gratitude and admiration for whoever made that possible for my friend.

It made me think about miracles I’ve received. For example, that my children and I have remained healthy and safe the past 21 months is a miracle. That we have wonderful old and new friends that bless our lives is a miracle. That I got a job in a tough economy after not working for 19 years is a miracle. That I survived two corporate down sizings, and kept my job, is a miracle. And last but not least, not only did Bachelor #5 arrive in our lives, but that he continues to hang in there with me during an engagement much longer than either of us anticipated as we prepare to marry some time in 2011 and blend two families and eight children is also a miracle!

I could go on and on.

I receive miracles every day; but I’m overwhelmed by tender mercies lately. The following have all come to me THIS month:

As mentioned earlier, my neighbor fixed my car. It was a blessing to have it repaired. And of course, it goes without saying that each time we drive it, we continue to be grateful for functioning windows and a warm driving experience!

I got a little bonus at my work Christmas party last week, which will allow me to purchase Christmas gifts for each of my children.

Two issues that have plagued me since my spouse revealed his Ponzi scheme and crimes, were finally resolved. THAT is a miracle.

We got to see a current movie in a theater (AND buy treats!), courtesy of a Denver man who saw the NBC-affiliate news story that ran on our family and he contacted us with words of encouragement–and a gift card to a movie theater so we could enjoy a movie as a family! It was the first time we’ve been able to do that since our unexpected life began and it was a thrill! In fact, I don’t think my youngest remembers ever seeing a movie in a theater. Current movies in real theaters are one of those “luxuries” that aren’t in our family budget any more. The man said that although throwing rocks is fun, so are movies, and he is right! What a great start to our holiday season.

I guess the season for miracles in my life is not over.

And I realize that it never is.

For any one.

Regardless of which end of the miracle you’re on.

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.” (Helen Keller)

O Christmas Tree

“Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree.  In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.” (Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas)

Christmas. It’s in the air. Especially in Utah where there are radio stations that begin playing all Christmas music, all of the time…in October!

It causes me to reflect on Christmases past—and Christmas now.

I remember my first Christmas as a married woman, arriving home from work in the early darkness of a winter evening. As I drove up the street, approaching my little starter home, I could see lights BLAZING from a neighbor’s home (glowing in the fashion of the Griswold’s lit up home in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” movie.) I laughed to myself, “Oh-ho! Now THERE is someone who loves Christmas! I’ve never seen so many lights, in person, on one house! I wonder who the Christmas fan is?”

And imagine my surprise, as I got closer to the spectacle, to see it was my house. Apparently, the fan was me.

Those were also the days of giant, towering, beautiful and majestic Christmas trees.

Enter the unexpected life.

Last year, Christmas was a bit of a struggle. Christmas 2009 was our first, on the heels of a lot of life change. It was lonely and worrisome. I’d never done Christmas lights before. I’d never set up a Christmas tree by myself before. I’d never had to earn my own money for Christmas gifts before. And despite the fact I felt quite healed from much of what had transpired earlier that year, I had to leave the celebration a few times and go up into my bedroom, alone, to cry.

But somehow we got through it.

My children and I had never set up a fake Christmas tree by ourselves before, but eventually we figured it out. (Ok, the honest truth is my daughter did!) My oldest son did our Christmas lights. (I drove home from work to discover all of our bushes illuminated. A special Christmas memory for my first Christmas as a single mother!) And an uncle, a family friend and a small bonus from work helped with the Christmas gifts.We held on to what traditions we could, let a few go and did some things in new and different ways.

Very similar to what you do when an unexpected life hits, actually. Cry, some. (If you’re like me.) Hold on to what you can, let a few things go, do some things in new and different ways and somehow, you get through it. You figure it out. And through it all, you get by with a little help from friends.

A year has passed. I like to (naively) believe we’ve gone through our “firsts” of everything although I’m learning that healing and life, including the unexpected one, is a process. Just when you think you’re healed or have learned what you needed to learn, occasionally something happens that shows you you’re not totally through the process. There’s a little bit left to heal. A little bit more to be conquered. Always more to learn. But with each passing day, and each challenge you rise above, you’re wiser, stronger, better, more capable and always able to see a new tender mercy or count an additional blessing.

And you can look back and see how you’ve grown. How far you’ve come.

For instance, this year, December 2010, yesterday, my children got our Christmas tree. While I was at work, they loaded in the car, drove to Home Depot, looked through all of the trees, chose the one they liked best, paid for it, hauled it home and I arrived home to a Christmas tree on our front porch! (In fact, the only thing they “forgot” to do was take a photo to document the experience.)

Today’s holiday adventure at the Merriman home will include hauling a real tree into the house and learning to master a Christmas tree stand. And if it’s like everything else, every other adventure we’ve encountered since entering our unexpected life, I’m pretty sure we’ll figure it out.

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” (Norma Shearer)

The unexpected life.