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Second Marriage Moment #25: The Counselor Was Right

“Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” (Kak Sri)

I’ve always been the kind of person that appreciates cheerfulness, a positive attitude, a spirit of gratitude, a sense of humor and kindness and courtesy toward others. It’s pretty much how I’ve always tried to approached everything, every blessing and every challenge, in my life. And true to form, it’s how I entered into remarriage.

I thought that if we all tried to be cheerful, if we all had positive attitudes, if we all counted our blessings instead of our misfortunes, if we all laughed at ourselves and some of the crazy blended-family situations we now found ourselves in, if we were just polite to one another, everything would (at least) be tolerable. It’s how I raised my children; it’s the home life I’ve always espoused; and it has worked well for us: the good times have been really, really good; and the challenges, even the practically unbearable ones in the wake of a Ponzi scheme revelation, the venom we endured, the divorce and complete life change which resulted from the situation brought upon us by a former family member, were more bearable because of it.

Unfortunately, the remarriage counselor had a different view. He actually told us to expect issues—and he told us what they would be! I was NOT a fan of all the counselor told us to expect. And, I recognize (now) I was extremely naive to think all of the above could eliminate from our lives what every other remarriage situation brings to all family members. I learned, firsthand, the professional expert, the remarriage counselor, did indeed know what he was talking about. Every single issue he told us to prepare for came to pass in the course of our engagement, our marriage, or in the months afterward!

Looking back, I guess it was easier to know what to expect (even though I’d forgotten to expect it by the time it happened). I recommend premarital counseling to everyone. On those occasions when an issue would arise, we were prepared for it to some degree. My husband would look at me and say, “No problem, we were told this would happen, we’ll make it work.” And he always did, we always did, reminding ourselves, “This, too, shall pass.” And it always does.

One thing the remarriage counselor failed to mention, however, was the impact mothers have on their children; especially the impact of different mothers raising their children! Remarriage, and my husband, have taught me, “Different mothers equals entirely different cultures!” I believe you can attribute most blended family issues to that.

As a result, while there have been some great moments, there have been some challenges. I even dared wonder, about three weeks into our marriage (and on one or two other occasions), “WHAT have I done? Can I really endure the issues that come with this territory?” But what marriage doesn’t make you wonder that at some point, even a first marriage? And as my husband always points out, “At least the issues are never with each other or between us.” True, and that’s something to be grateful for.

Another thing I’m grateful for is that despite eight months of marriage, he is still holding on to the whole “soulmate thing” with all of his heart. And the longer I’m married to him, the more I think he’s right. How awesome it is to have found mine, so unexpectedly, thanks, once again, to…the unexpected life.

Oh, the counselor was right about something else, too: It CAN be done. It IS worth it. And, to quote him, “You two are going to be just fine!” Second marriage moment #25.

“Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

What blessings has YOUR unexpected life brought you?

Memory Lapse

“It’s weird being here. It feels like I’m standing next to my real life.” (Henry Rollins)

Occasionally, living the unexpected life that I do, I have that sense.

Despite the fact I’m living a completely new and different  life, and I am very happy in it, every once in awhile I experience a “moment” like that. I’m just living my life, doing my thing, feeling normal and everything else that goes with choosing to embrace and live a new existence with which I’ve been blessed, and then…I have the sensation that it isn’t real, and for an instant, prepare myself to return “home” to Colorado and envision myself driving down my driveway and walking in the door only to realize, “Oh, wait. That isn’t my life anymore. I’m not visiting Utah, I work here, I live here now.” How can I have even one moment where I forget that? But every once in awhile, for just an instant, my subconscious apparently does.

Have you ever had one of those moments? When you look at your life, and it is SO DIFFERENT from the life you expected to live, that it’s sort of…weird? You almost wonder if it’s really yours,  yet it is, and aspects of it feel more real than maybe anything you have ever previously lived. (Anyone? Anyone? Or is it just me? Or is it post traumatic something-or-other reserved for innocent people whose former spouses committed crimes and perpetuated fraud behind their backs, who go through a lot of life changes in a brief period of time and come out the other side of it with a terrific, but very different, existence?)

The good news is that instead of being filled with relief at being able to “wake up” (like you do in dreams, especially bad ones) and go back to the old life and its plans and hopes and dreams, I find that I’m actually relieved to be living this one, despite its challenges.

So while I don’t know what psychologists or therapists would say about this, I’ve decided not to sweat it. I consider it part of the fallout of unexpectedly losing one life and inheriting another, and choose, instead, to count my blessings; the blessings of my real life. I believe every single life is FILLED with good things (some lives just require a harder look to see the good sometimes, depending on what phase of the unexpected life you’re living.)

And if you’re having a hard time recognizing all of the good in your life today, in my opinion, that’s ok. I think I remember living a day or two, or several, where the only good thing I saw as I tried to count my blessings was that I was still breathing!

Yet here I am, just two years later, finding so much to cherish and be grateful for. Life happens like that, if you just hang on long enough.

After all, “If you woke up breathing, congratulations!  You have another chance.” (Andrea Boydston)

What are YOU grateful for today?

My Own “Hall of Fame”

“I’m not proud. I’m willing to go in on my hands and knees if I have to.” ( Luke Appling, asked whether he resented entering the Hall of Fame on the second ballot)

Yep, that’s pretty much how my unexpected life is for me. Not proud, willing to do what must be done. It has provided some memorable, head shaking moments for me; not head shaking in a bad way, more like a “I NEVER expected to do THIS or have this be my life” sort of way!

“Hall of Fame” moments of The Unexpected Life (in no particular order):

1. Not being able to give my children even $1 for new school clothes. Last year, we made due with ALL of the old. (Quite an unexpected change from every previous year’s shopping trips to Nordstrom or Abercrombie! I never imagined not being able to purchase ANY school clothes for my children prior to entering my unexpected life.) But this is the good part: My kids have learned to shop thrift stores first when they need something and have scored some deals—like the time my daughter found a brand new J. Crew blouse with the tags still attached…for $6!

2. Encouraging my middle son to wear shoes with holes. I never imagined I’d do it, or have to do it, but it’s an attempt to make them last longer and to give us extra time to save up money for a new pair. I like to think of them as “stylishly tattered” (like the hole-y jeans everyone wears) and frankly, we’re just thankful he has SHOES! Period. March 18, 2009, we weren’t so sure we’d even have shoes, so we’re thankful for what we’ve got. Besides, someday when he’s grown and a father himself and needs a good story for his children, he’ll be able to tell them how he had to wear shoes with holes in the winter when he was in 5th grade.

3. Driving a used car, in the middle of winter, with a broken window. As mentioned in a previous blog, driving in the freezing winter air, heater blasting, buried under blankets in an attempt to stay warm is definitely a memory I never expected to make! What a sight I must have been! In my 40s, driving a car without a window, in the winter. Welcome to my unexpected life! (Endless thanks to a good neighbor who fixed the broken window for us, and every time I drive I’m so grateful for all of the windows in the car.)

4. Driving my car’s gas tank past empty, well beyond the moment the “empty” light turns on, EVERY time it runs low. I’m just trying to go as long as I can between payments to the pump. (In my old life, my former husband didn’t like me to let the gas gauge get below half-full. But things are very different for the Merrimans now!)

5. Living with a giant pot under my kitchen sink for 4 months, emptying the pot 3-4 times a day (and sometimes cleaning up a flood when my kids ran water in the sink and forgot to check the water level accumulating in the pot underneath) when I got a leak, tried to fix it, probably made it worse, had my Eagle Scout son try to fix it, he couldn’t, and we couldn’t afford a plumber so we lived with a pot under the sink while we tried to save up money for a plumber. However, when you’re short every month, savings never really materializes.  We’ll never forget our friend who flew over from Denver, Colorado, and fixed our leak for us one Saturday. His service to our family will NEVER be forgotten!

6. Handwashing dishes. Our dishwasher broke several months ago, so we hand-washed our dishes for financial reasons–it was just impossible for me to justify going into debt for the purchase of a new dishwasher (even the “cheap” ones are expensive in my world!) when we had plenty of dish soap, dish rags and hands that could do the job just as well for a lot less money. Besides, I didn’t think I could qualify for credit to purchase a new one, anyway! (And I wasn’t up for an additional embarrassing financial situation, I’ve had a few of those already in my unexpected life.)  And then just last week, a new dishwasher was purchased, delivered and installed for me, courtesy of #5. Thanks, Mr. Awesome! (I don’t think any of my children will ever complain again about having to unload a dishwasher! We’re just so thankful to have one and to not have to hand wash dishes anymore.)

6. Not eating out but making a memorable attempt at breaking that status at Red Robin. I decided to splurge on a family meal “out” during the holidays because we hadn’t all gone out to eat together since our unexpected life began almost two years ago. I calculated that we could afford Red Robin if we ordered 3 of their $5 burgers and split them. We drove to Red Robin, sat down, picked up our menus, and I couldn’t find those $5 burgers anywhere on the menu. The waitress informed me they’d been removed from the menu one week earlier and weren’t available anymore, “But our burgers are only $8 each, that’s still a good deal and they’re really delicious!” There was only one thing I could say to that:  ”NOT for a single mother with 4 kids. Thanks, anyway.” And we got up and left! We had to. There’s a big difference between $15 and $24 in my unexpected life. As we were walking out without ordering or eating anything, my youngest started throwing a temper tantrum and had to be carried out as he screamed. I’m sure we appeared to be the trashiest customers to grace Red Robin that day. I NEVER imagined I’d choose to exit a restaurant because I was unwilling to go into debt for a burger, but that’s what I did. (I’m laughing about it now, I hope Red Robin can, someday, too!)

7. Doing anything for free groceries. (I never imagined the lengths I’d go to to save money in my unexpected life.) My daughter had her wisdom teeth removed, three prescriptions were needed, I took them to Rite Aid to be filled, drove away and then found a coupon for Smith’s grocery store’s pharmacy that offered $25 in free groceries for each new prescription filled, good for up to 3 prescriptions. That was $75 of free groceries–and all it cost was the humiliation of returning to the original pharmacy and asking for my prescriptions back! I hurried back to Rite Aid and asked for the written prescriptions back before they were filled. At some point in my life I might have been embarrassed to do something like that, but after living through REALLY humiliating experiences (like being married to a man who perpetrated a Ponzi scheme without my knowledge, having the whole thing unfold in national media, having my divorce reported in the media, having my neighbors offer commentary on my life and living situation to the media, and a few other things) I’m not easily embarrassed anymore.  And the next time when we needed food, and my entire purchase at Smith’s was free, I wasn’t embarrassed at all, I was grateful! Grateful I hadn’t been too proud to save some money.

8. Attempting to save money and make the old tire on my car last longer before I bought a new one, and ending up, instead, with a flat tire in the desert in July and had to pay a tow truck $100 to help us when we couldn’t get the flat tire off to put the spare tire on! Yes, that one didn’t turn out QUITE like I expected it to. Worst of all, it didn’t save me any money! Lesson learned. ”Fame and riches are fleeting. Stupidity is eternal.” (Don Williams, Jr.)

10. Returning to work full-time and putting one of my children in daycare. I know many people do it, and I’m used to it now–it’s our life–but it was a momentous (not in a good way) experience for me.

11. Taking my children to two new movies, in an actual theater, this past holiday season. (Our thanks and gratitude to a very generous Denver man who sent us a gift card to Cinemark! We LOVED it!) It was the first time we’d been able to go to a current movie, as a family, in our unexpected life.

12. Returning my violin to its original owner–the same week my former possessions went to new ones.

13. Taking my kids out to eat at a restaurant for only the 3rd time in almost two years, my treat, thanks to the violin money. And although I faced quit an inner debate about doing something “frivolous” like that when there are talents to be developed, when my 17-year-old furnace broke the very next week and all of the violin money had to go to paying for a replacement furnace, I was glad we’d done something fun, like dinner! Note to self: need new plan for talent development. (Still awaiting inspiration on that one!)

There you have it. The Unexpected Life “Hall of Fame.

Interestingly, ”Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” (Seneca)

I mean that.


“Remember God’s bounty in the year. String the pearls of His favor. Hide the dark parts, except so far as they are breaking out in the light! Give this one day to thanks, to joy, to gratitude!” (Henry Ward Beecher)

Last year, at this time, I felt so alone. I tried not to, but there was no disguising the emptiness attendant with the shock of being thrust into a life you don’t feel prepared for.

Last Thanksgiving, the first of my unexpected life, made me apprehensive. It was our first–in our new home, in a new state, we didn’t know many people yet, we were still reeling from the shock of so much change that had taken place so quickly, it was my first as a single mother and…it was the year all of my siblings were scheduled to spend the holiday with their in-laws.

A good friend (“family,” to me and my children) invited us to share the day with her family in Utah. They could not have been more gracious to us. They all made us feel so welcome, we didn’t even feel like guests! And instead of the hard day I’d feared (we had a lot of those back then) my children ended the day saying it was their best Thanksgiving ever.

What a difference one year makes. This year, I couldn’t feel less alone.

I will be sharing the day with my siblings and their families in the little town of our heritage, Ephraim, Utah. Bachelor #5, his family and his mom will be joining us. My birth mom also invited us to have dinner with her. If you’d have told me last year, at this time, that in just one year’s time I’d have more family and loved ones to celebrate with than I could work into one day, I’d have laughed in your face. Yet here I am–juggling time with many loved ones!

I would have to write a novel if I tried to record the bounty in this year; or string the pearls of the many blessings I’ve received in 2010. There haven’t been many dark days, just a whole lot of light! How grateful I am to give this day to thanks, joy and gratitude of which I have much. What a relief!

So if you happen to be in the throes of your unexpected life, if this day is one of your “firsts,” know that you are going to make it and that next year, there will be even more to be thankful for. I guarantee it.

You may even be amazed, as I have been, at the bounty that can come out of such devastation, destruction, grief and challenge.

That pretty much sums up my unexpected life…today. It says it all.

Oh wait. One more thing.

“Thanksgiving, man. Not a good day to be my pants.” (Kevin James)

The Cure for Insomnia

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” (Ernest Hemingway)

Not too long ago, a blog reader said she noticed I do my posts in the wee hours; she wondered if I had trouble sleeping.

I thought it was interesting that she had noticed that. But I’ve noticed it too. It seems like such a little thing, yet it is one of a few big changes brought on by the unexpected life.


I remember the good old days, pre the unexpected life, when I could sleep at night, as well as the last night I slept: March 17, 2009. It was the morning after that night, when I woke up and my life fell apart.

Since that time, I’ve had a lot of sleepless nights. I don’t know the sole cause for my insomnia, but it probably had something to do with shock, trauma, grief, stress, strain, worry, fear, financial devastation, life loss, divorce, sleeping alone for the first time in 20 years, and feeling so alone. At first, I couldn’t help but count my troubles like I had once counted sheep. However, that type of score keeping is not sleep inducing. In fact, it is not conducive to anything.

Life’s too short to engage in unproductive activities or behaviors. Time is too precious. So I had to let that go.

Now, instead of counting my worries before I attempt to rest, I count my blessings. I keep a little notebook by the side of my bed and try to take a few minutes at the end of each day to write something I’m grateful for. Every day there is something. You just have to look, and let your eyes see what is right in front of them.

For example, “When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?” (G.K. Chesterton)

Most days, I have to stop myself because my hand gets tired from writing so much, or because my eyes begin to blur or because I’ve fallen asleep for a few minutes with the pen in my hand.

And now you have it.

My cure for insomnia, developed under the tutelage of the unexpected life.


“Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation.” (Brian Tracy)

Find Something to Be Grateful For

“The thing I’m most thankful for right now is elastic waistbands.” (Author Unknown)

Thanksgiving is coming; the season of turkey and expandable clothing. I can’t miss the signs of its approach: A local grocery store gives coupons for discounts on turkeys every time you shop. My sister called to discuss our family Thanksgiving plans. It has all reminded me of last Thanksgiving–my first Thanksgiving as a single mother; and of course, the year all of my siblings were destined to spend the holiday with their in-laws.

A part of me wished I could magically skip over the holiday and not have to face it. The “firsts” are always tough. But the single working mother part of me looked forward to the opportunity to spend four days in a row with my children. Thankfully, a wonderful friend and her family, mother and siblings invited my little family to share the day with them. They really took us under their wing and made us feel a part of their family. It was comforting, and feeling as alone as we felt in some ways, it was wonderful to feel a part of a crowd.

It was a perfect holiday for us; we were able to experience Thanksgiving and feel gratitude for our blessings without being overwhelmed by our losses. In fact, my children said it was their best Thanksgiving ever.

One thing I loved was the opportunity after the meal for each individual to express one thing they were grateful for. I was particularly struck by how many husbands and wives chose to share their gratitude for each other publicly. It touched me and inspired me. It gave me hope that all of that might again be mine someday…if I endured and didn’t give up too soon on the singles scene.

It was also the time I learned yet another new fact about life on “the inside.”

Did you know prison inmates bless their meal at Thanksgiving?

Yes, it’s true, despite the fact Hollywood has been remiss in portraying it. I’ve been told there are two days of the year inmates offer a blessing on the the food as a group: Thanksgiving and Christmas. Last year, my ex-husband was asked to say the blessing on the food in his jail.

He wrote: “Today is Thanksgiving and 70 men asked me to bless the food. I asked one of the inmates why they chose me and he replied, ‘Because we see you reading the bible and your Book of Mormon and praying every day. We asked you because you are doing it, not just talking about it.’”

He blessed the food as asked and later that evening, offered a toast: “Thanksgiving is almost over. I made a hot cocoa and did a toast to our kids. I miss them more than you can possibly imagine.”

Last year reminded me that no matter you’ve lost, no matter where you are in your unexpected life and no matter where you reside, you can always (and should always) find something to be grateful for and express your gratitude for it.

“The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.” (Eric Hoffer, “Reflections On The Human Condition”)

But it’s also the most rewarding.

Before I Committed Myself

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.” (Jane Austen)

I made my decision, I needed to tell him, but I couldn’t. There was something else I had to know before I fully committed myself with, “It’s time.”

My problem was this: how can you think you’re in love with a man, how can you marry him, if you don’t know what it’s like to slow dance with him? One more experiment was needed. But I had to be discreet.

It didn’t even dawn on me to test his slow dancing mojo in my home or his, our own music playing. With 8 children between us, I didn’t even consider that a possibility. Instead, you’ll NEVER guess where I tested my hypothesis! A singles dance. (I know! After all I have written about them, I actually ended up going back to one, voluntarily, with Bachelor #5, just to see how I felt about slow dancing with him!)

It was going to require serious maneuvering though. Bachelor #5 was not a fan of singles dances. His ONE singles dance experience had not been pleasant. Thankfully, it occurred long before I went to one because he was not happy to be there, he sat on a chair against the wall with his arms folded across his chest and he didn’t dance once all night! (In his defense, that is SO not like him, I had to laugh at his hostility toward singles dances!)

So I didn’t tell him my plan. I didn’t tell him where we were going or why. I just buttered him up before the experiment by taking him to my favorite Provo restaurant. He was curious all through dinner about what was coming afterward, yet I never revealed a thing. I simply warned, “I’m sorry, you’re not going to like it, but it is simply something that must be done.”

That piqued his curiousity. As we walked to the car, he got a flash of inspiration and said, “I KNOW where we’re going! I know what we’re doing!”

I insisted he didn’t know anything. He insisted he did. He put me in the car, got in, turned the car on, looked over at me and asked, “Which building?”

Such is the price you pay when you have so much in common with someone else, when you’re so alike. He really did know where I was taking him. A singles dance. You can’t put much over on a soul mate.

But I didn’t back down. I gave him directions and we were off for the final experiment. We pulled into the parking lot and talked for a few minutes before going in. He had some concerns, but I assured him we simply had to dance a slow song or two and then we could leave.

Then he worried what he was supposed to do when women asked him to dance! I told him that wouldn’t happen; people would see we were together, and women would leave him alone. However, I guess he had enough experience with single women to worry about that anyway. We went inside.

It’s always that same, strange, weird feeling when you enter a singles dance, and that night was no different. Thoughts of, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong here!” flooded my mind as my senses were overwhelmed by the pulsing beat of old songs and current ones, and the sight of old people dancing like teenagers–or trying to, anyway. But Bachelor #5 and I pressed on.

After a minute or two, a slow song came on, he grabbed my hand and pulled me to the dance floor. A song neither of us knew was playing, but it was a very good, very appropriate song that led to a MOMENT on the dance floor. You know what I’m talking about; those MOMENTS in life that are amazing while they last, when time seems to almost stand still, and their memory lingers for years to come.

“There are moments in life, when the heart is so full of emotion That if by chance it be shaken, or into its depths like a pebble Drops some careless word, it overflows, and its secret, Spilt on the ground like water, can never be gathered together.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Bachelor #5 passed the test.

And guess what? We had so much fun, we stayed most of the night–dancing every slow song and even some fun fast songs that he or I liked or that brought back memories of good times from previous decades. Unexpectedly, Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” song came on, and although I was a pretty young teen when it was popular, it was totally Bachelor #5′s genre; we both love it and we danced to it. Looking back, and given his September deadline, that probably would have been a good MOMENT to say, “It’s time,” but I didn’t even think to. I just had the thought, “Dude, if you only knew what ‘September’ is going to have in store for you. There you are, innocently dancing and having a great time, until you get the shock of your life–’It’s Time’!”

After the dance, as I walked to the car, I had a moment of nostalgia. I thought, “This is not my life anymore. These singles dances are not for me anymore. This just may be the last singles dance of my life that I attend.” And despite my previous experiences there, despite the cast of interesting characters I’ve profiled, I had a sentimental moment as I realized how much I had grown and changed, even as a single woman, since my arrival on the singles scene July 13, 2009.

My singles experience was winding down.

And I felt a profound sense of wonder that it was, coupled with a feeling of gratitude for all that I had endured, tried to rise above, and eventually learned, as a result of being unexpectedly single in my unexpected life.

“Play with life, laugh with life, dance lightly with life, and smile at the riddles of life, knowing that life’s only true lessons are writ small in the margin.” (Jonathan Lockwood Huie)

Full Circle

“I don’t have to look up my family tree, because I know that I’m the sap.” (Fred Allen)

I could have died. Did I really say that out loud?

Thankfully, she laughed, opened the door and invited me into her home. And then, like a total mother, she said, “Let me look at you!” and had me turn all the way around in a circle for inspection.

She was friendly, kind, loving, accepting and interesting to talk to. She was also very open with her thoughts and feelings. I quickly learned she was not about judging others or making judgements. She had counseled me not to judge her, and the sign at her door was a good reminder: “Please leave your judgments, and your shoes, at the door.”

I think it was an exciting moment for both of us.

I apologized for my tacky first words, but maintained that they were true. She laughed and said at her age, it was a huge compliment. She didn’t mind them one bit!

There were no tears, just smiles, until she expressed her gratitude for my parents and the way they had raised me. She told me she felt that although they weren’t here any more, they were still very aware of me, that they were supportive of our meeting and that she could be here for me now. THAT is what made me cry.

It was a tender moment.

I remembered every single birthday of my entire life, when my mom would look at me funny and start to cry. (It was almost a ritual.) I’d ask her why she was crying. And she’d say, “I’m just thinking of your biological mother. I wonder what she is thinking today? And I am just so grateful to her for bringing you into this world!” And there stood the woman who had brought me into the world expressing gratitude for my parents. It was as if some part of the adoption process had come full circle.

She hugged me.

And then we sat down to begin to get acquainted.

“Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.” (Anthony Brandt)

July 13, 2010: Life Lesson of The Unexpected Life

I’ve lived a few tough days in my life.

Here are just a few: September 26, 1986, the day the wreckage of my dad’s airplane was discovered and our wait to know his fate was over (as was his life); May 4, 2006, the day my mom suffered a massive stroke and doctors gave her less than 48 hours to live (she actually died a few hours later as I was rushing to Utah to see her one last time before she passed away); March 18, 2009, the day Shawn Merriman (my then-husband) informed me his business was a sham, that he had been running a Ponzi scheme since approximately 1994, that he had turned himself in to authorities, that he was headed to prison for a long time, that all of our assets were seized and I was left with nothing and left alone to raise our four children; and July 13, 2009, the day my divorce was final and I left Colorado for Utah to pick up the pieces and begin a new life.

Although there are a few other “miscellaneous” hard days I’ve endured, the above four days come to mind when I think of difficult days I’ve lived.

A few months ago I was struck by the realization of how much I’ve learned over the past year–things of a spiritual nature, things about myself and what I am capable of, things about people and humanity and life in general. So many things I have learned.

I realized I am grateful for every single thing I have learned. Even the hard stuff.

And I was shocked to realize I feel the lessons I’ve learned are worth the price I have paid.

I never imagined (especially during 2009) I would ever be able to say that or feel this way but I do. In fact, I would do it all over again. I would go through everything I’ve experienced again to learn what I have learned and to get where I am today. The lessons have been that valuable to me.

Mark Twain was right: “If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.” That’s true of life, too! Especially the unexpected life.

I believe that in life, when we’re holding that tail firmly in our grasp because there is nothing else we can do, and if we do our best to keep pressing forward through all of the noise, claws and pain, and if we can be humble and introspective and attempt to learn all we can and to better ourselves while enduring the challenges rather than question, “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” and, “If only,” we will come to the same realization Mark Twain did.

We will learn things we cannot learn any other way. We’ll be better for having learned them. And hopefully, we will be grateful for what we have learned and the growth we have achieved. I believe that is one purpose of the unexpected life.

And not that we’d want to, but “If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we’d all be millionaires!” (Abigail Van Buren) A fun way to look at the lessons (and their value to us) in an unexpected life.

Another lesson I’ve learned is this: “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” (Kevin Henkes, “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse”)

It really will.

Eight Hours To Think

Like I said, I drove off in my trusty Subaru without a backward glance to the life I had lived for nearly 20 years in Denver, Colorado.  It had been a good life, with many great experiences and good memories, which made it all the more difficult,and poignant, for me.  I had eight hours to think.

I couldn’t help but reflect on who I’d been when I arrived there–a college graduate as of the day before I arrived; a newlywed with hopes and dreams and my whole life ahead of me; I had had a mom visiting me there through the years.  I realized how much I had learned and grown in Denver.  I realized I had, really, grown up in Denver.

I had entered the workforce and learned valuable lessons; I had learned to be a wife; I had learned to work to have what I thought was a real and great marriage; I had become a mother; I had served in the community; I had served in my church and had learned what it meant to be a Christian and to live a Christian life; I had made friends; I had traveled the world and had life-enriching cultural experiences; I had informally continued my education; participated in book clubs and learned about new things.  And I knew all of that was ending.  Actually, it was already over.

I had discovered my marriage had been built on lies and a sham of epic proportions (in my little world) with its tentacles reaching into every aspect of my personal, public, religious, and family life; I was re-entering the workforce; and my mom was dead.  Everything I’d ever known or had, it seemed, was gone.

I had been unrighteously judged and accused of things I had never known about much less participated in by literally hundreds of people who knew me (and who should have known better) and by countless other hundreds of strangers (that is all I can admit to myself, who knows? It could be in the thousands, really.)  Except for the support of a very small network of friends and family who had not betrayed me and abandoned me in my hour of need, I was alone.  And I felt more alone than I knew one person could feel.

I don’t know how I would have done it, how I could have driven off to face my new opportunities, had I not had a very important epiphany.  You see, I had my two youngest children with me in the backseat.  So I couldn’t cry, wail, or do anything else that felt natural and right, to me, in that moment.  I couldn’t upset them like that.  Their life seemed like it was going to have enough challenges ahead without me adding to them.  All I could do was think.  Eight hours to think.

Thoughts ran through my mind at warp speed, so many, so quickly I don’t know that I processed them all.  But I do remember wondering to myself, “How can I do this?  How can this be happening?  How can I be leaving my LIFE?  How can I be abandoning all I have become and built over the past almost 20 years?  How can this be real?”  And then it hit me like a bolt of lightening. I won’t have a scar from it like Harry Potter, but it has been forever seared in my mind.

I realized I could do it, and had done it with as much grace and dignity as I could muster, I could drive off without a backward glance, I could be an example to my children and show them how you carry on and do what you have to do (even do what you don’t want to do) with your head held high, even when the direction seems impossible because…I had been blessed (yes, I realize now, BLESSED) with my neighbors.

My neighbors were good people.  But some had been affected by my former spouse’s choices (and those that hadn’t, for some reason, jumped on the bandwagon anyway) and had gone from being like family to me to turning in to absolutely the most hateful and hostile people I have personally ever had the opportunity to know!

I reflected on my neighbors and realized they had a purpose in my life.  I saw them for what they were to me–a blessing, in their own way.  Corrie Ten Boom, author of “The Hiding Place,” was sent to a German concentration camp.  Her story taught me about gratitude and choosing to give thanks in all things for SOME thing.  And to look for the tender mercies that come to each of us in our lives.

In her trying and miserable existence, one day the only thing Corrie and her sister could find to be grateful for was fleas!  It seemed a little ridiculous but they chose to be thankful for the fleas they lived with.  (After all, gratitude is always a choice, isn’t it?)  They even prayed to God and expressed their gratitude for the fleas.  And do you know what? Those fleas ended up saving Corrie’s life when Nazi soldiers wouldn’t enter their barracks for inspections–because of the fleas!

I haven’t had the chance to thank those neighbors for being true fleas to me until now.  But thank you.  I mean that, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart.

Each of you made it easier for me to do what I had to do, and to do it with gratitude, and I will always be grateful.

Onward I drove.  Eight hours to think.