Living Happily Ever After


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“A man’s character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” (Mark Twain)

There’s nothing that reveals character like the unexpected life. And if we’re judging things by the adjectives I’ve learned to use, I’d say the unexpected life revealed some flaws I hadn’t known were there.

It has always been a joke in my family that I can’t cuss.

It’s not that I haven’t known the proper words to use. My amazing Nana had the MOST colorful way of expressing herself for most of my life. And both of my parents occasionally “slipped” when addressing frustrations (usually in relation to my brothers! haha) and taught them to me unintentionally. It’s mostly that I just was never comfortable using those expressions. And it was so out of character for me to express myself that way, it never worked when I tried. I simply wasn’t good at it.

Early in my first marriage, I cussed at my former husband–to make a point, of course. He stopped as soon as I said the word, and laughed! He shook his head, told me not to do that any more, that it just wasn’t me and it didn’t work for me. He laughed about it the rest of our marriage.

Then 2005 arrived. It was a challenging year. My oldest was in 7th grade and experimenting with a new appearance, growing his hair longer and dressing like a skater–in the style of Elmo, I mean Emo (sorry to all of the Emo people out there!) and acting a little careless to match his hairstyle. At the same time, my last child was born. I experienced some complications and spent a couple of months in and out of the hospital and the year following his birth continuing to heal and recover. On top of that, my baby had health/sensory challenges of his own and cried almost constantly the first two years of his life. And my mom died. (All of the above took place as my oldest attempted to “find” himself at 12 1/2 years old.)

One day, I lost it and cussed at my oldest son. I remember where I was standing when I did it–his bedroom. He stopped as soon as I said the word, and laughed! He shook his head and told me I shouldn’t attempt that any more, that I was terrible at cussing, and has teased me about it ever since.

Enter the unexpected life. Although I was almost perfectly kind and polite to the former husband who became a stranger in one fateful moment March 18, 2009, I remember an occasion in which I used an inappropriate adjective several times when addressing some issues I had with him and what he had done. (In my defense, it was absolutely mild and merciful compared to what I was thinking and feeling at the time!) And then one morning not too long ago, things that had been building inside me for awhile came to a head and I used an inappropriate adjective in speaking to my oldest again. Sadly, no one laughed. Because the word worked.

I felt bad about that all day long. Is that what my unexpected life had come to and created in me–an ability to demonstrate my “poverty of thought?” (That’s how I’d viewed cussing up until that time.) I even called a friend and confessed my language challenge to her. She knew just what to say. She good-naturedly told me not to worry about it; that I had used a word that is a location, so it didn’t count as cussing! THAT sure gave me a good laugh on a day that I needed one.

So although the unexpected life I hope has revealed positive attributes (my ability to endure, forgive, remain honest, work hard, look at the bright side and choose happiness despite it all) it has revealed a character flaw, or two, as well. Darn it.

And oh, well. Because although I’ve already revealed my ignorance about diamonds in previous ring shopping posts, I still say, as did Confucius, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” Consider me flawed, yet with the potential to dazzle as I overcome my challenges.

I believe there is hope for me and every other diamond-in-the-rough out there yet. It’s called life, and its attendant adversity–guaranteed to refine us and make us what we need to be; to help us be better than we would otherwise have been, as long as we choose to let it.

“Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.” (Thomas Carlyle)

If we just keep going, making the most of our challenges, I guarantee we’ll be dazzling someday.

Thanks to the unexpected life.

Gotta Keep Your Feet Moving

I’ve felt a kinship with Arnold Schwarzenegger for quite some time. Since the early 1990s, to be exact.

It began years ago. I was in downtown Denver, at an Eddie Bauer store, looking at a jacket.  A well-meaning young, male salesclerk approached and told me I should buy that jacket, that “The Arnold” was in town and had tried it on just hours before. (Hint: Never tell a woman THAT if you want to make a sale!) Needless to say, I left the jacket as it hung. But knowing I had touched something Arnold Schwarzenegger had, bonded us. At least from my perspective.

So I don’t take his wisdom lightly. Here’s some:

“What we face may look insurmountable. But I learned something from all those years of training and competing. I learned something from all those sets and reps when I didn’t think I could lift another ounce of weight. What I learned is that we are always stronger than we know.” (Arnold Schwarzenegger)

Isn’t that the truth?

When I was 9 years old, my best friend Rachel Cox, got it in her mind that we were going to walk 20 miles together and raise money in a March of Dimes walkathon. I got on my bicycle and pedaled all over the rural roads of Grand Jct., CO, asking strangers to sponsor me in my walk.

Things were safer in the 70s, but still not without their hazzards.

At one house, a giant and ferocious dog chased me down the driveway. I screamed and ran, panic stricken and crying. Thankfully, the homeowner came, rescued me, and sponsored me–probably feeling bad for the little girl with the racing heart, bawling in the driveway.

I survived the sponsorship part of the walkathon. Finally the day came to walk 20 miles.

My parents were out of town. They told me (later, and for the rest of my life) they figured I’d walk a mile or two and go home so they didn’t change their travel plan and just arranged a ride for me to the starting point where I met my friend. I was completely unprepared for the walk by today’s standards. I wore normal school clothes, Keds, I didn’t bring any water or food (kids don’t always plan for the essentials–they’d never even crossed my mind, actually), I didn’t have sunscreen, and while most walkers had adult supervision, Rachel and I were on our own.

At mile one, Rachel quit. For some reason, I carried on alone. (I was pretty shy back then, to this day I’m not sure how I dared continue on by myself.) It may have had something to do with the fact that I wasn’t tired, or maybe I was motivated by the pictures of the poster children I was trying to help, or maybe it was all I’d gone through getting sponsors–not just the dog attack, but even talking to people I didn’t know and asking them to help me; I hated that part of it! Or maybe I just wanted to see if I could do it.

So I kept walking.

I didn’t really know what I was doing or where I was going, but I followed the way marked by cardboard arrows, got my card stamped at each mile’s checkpoint, and watched the stream of walkers lessen until I was mostly alone and felt even more alone knowing my parents were out of town. I wasn’t always sure where to go. Thankfully, I didn’t get lost. I felt a little like I was blazing my own trail and I was a little afraid, but I carried on most of the day.

By late afternoon, an unfortunate thing happened. The walkathon route went right past my neighborhood–just before mile 18–and I gave in to the lure and safety of home. I detoured through Paradise Hills to my house and quit, without even getting my card stamped at mile 18 and getting credit for that last mile I walked.

My feet were killing me.

My house was quiet.

But I had accomplished something.

When my parents arrived home that evening and found out what I had achieved all by myself, they were dumbfounded. They took me to dinner to celebrate–my dad carried me to and from the car and into the restaurant so I wouldn’t have to walk any more that day. They told everyone what I had done.

The prospect of walking 20 miles, by myself, in the 4th grade seemed incomprehensible. But I learned something that day. When I thought I couldn’t go the distance, I did. When I was alone, and afraid, I carried on anyway. And in the end, I learned I was stronger and more capable than I’d ever imagined.

That’s sort of how last year was for me. I found myself facing a challenge so huge I didn’t know how I’d go the distance. I was alone, afraid, but I carried on anyway. There weren’t signs showing me the way this time, I had to rely on inspiration, common sense, the advice of good friends, absolute faith and sometimes, pure endurance.

And in the end, I learned I was stronger and more capable than I’d ever imagined. And I accomplished something I wasn’t always sure would be possible: a new life; happiness and joy out of the disastrous ruination and ashes of my former life.

The unexpected life is its own walkathon. But if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, even when your feet (and your heart) hurt, eventually you’ll accomplish something great.

“I always tell my kids if you lay down, people will step over you. But if you keep scrambling, if you keep going, someone will always, always give you a hand. Always. But you gotta keep dancing, you gotta keep your feet moving.” (Morgan Freeman)

Keep your feet moving.

The unexpected life.

My News Story

It’s official.

The “exciting” event I foreshadowed in a blog last month actually became an “exciting” event for my middle son yesterday–he got to see himself on t.v.!

Cheryl Preheim, a news personality on NBC affiliate Channel 9 in Denver, CO, did a story on our family’s experience which aired, for the first time, last night.

Click here to see the news story.

But to keep it all in perspective, I’m reminded of some wisdom Abe Lincoln shared, “What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.”

Just don’t call me Flower.

Lemonade That’s Real

“We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.” (Alfred Newman)

When my ex-husband went to prison, I told him I hoped he used the time to learn what he needed to learn; to grow and change in the ways he needed to; and that I hoped he chose to make the best of the experience, whatever it might be. In other words, make lemonade. Even in prison.

I LOVE lemonade, but it’s also how I believe in living life. However, the fact it has to be easier said than done in prison is not lost on me. I knew what I was asking of him. So lest I have painted too rosy a portrait of prison, let me share some reality.

About his environment he wrote, “This is such a harsh place. There is nowhere to go for peace. Nowhere to be alone or even escape the constant barrage of foul language. Just for kicks one day I decided to count the number of cuss words I heard in a single hour–I stopped at 1200! It is a daily onslaught from which there is no escape. I think we have every kind of degenerate scum bag in this place. Every day I wake up refreshed, feeling clean, and by the end of the day I feel like I just can’t take the filth any more. A deputy summed it up this way: ‘I view my pay not as income, but as worker’s compensation, because every time I come through that door I feel millions of brain cells commit suicide.’ It’s the shallow end of the gene pool to be sure but there are a few gems in here, and I consider myself to be blessed with the friends I have here.”

Rather than dwell on the negative, I was happy to see he focused on his daily routine and tried to make the best of his situation. He kept busy exercising, playing games, tutoring men for the G.E.D., reading, writing, making friends and trying to make the most of his incarceration. Not bad lemonade, especially for prison.

“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I have several stands around here.” (James Brady)

You can make lemonade wherever you are. All you need is lemons (abundant in the challenges and trials of life), water (which is everywhere) and a little sugar supplied by you–the way you choose to look at things and rise above them, the blessings you acknowledge and are grateful for, the positive things you focus on and the happiness you choose to create from your fruit regardless of where it comes from.

Make the best of what you have, regardless of how sour it is, and somewhere along the way the bitterness is overpowered by the sweet. It happens every time.


In My Dreams

“In my dreams, I could be a Princess, and that’s what I was. Like most little girls, I believed nothing less than a Prince could make my dreams come true.” (Loretta Young)

A marriage proposal is a moment. In time. In life. In dreams. And that marriage proposal moment with Bachelor #5 was no different–it was one of THOSE moments. Surreal, yet very real. When the past and the present come together. Where time seems to stands still.

The man I had fallen in love with was kneeling before me, proposing marriage, and this is what I was thinking:

“Is this REALLY happening?”

“Oh my gosh! THIS is a moment.”

“Focus, Andrea. You have to hear and remember everything he says!”

“My memory is terrible–how am I going to do that?”

“I have to remember this, I have to try to remember this moment, and this feeling, for the rest of my life.”

“Wait a second…what did he just say? That was really good, I HAVE to remember that!”

“Oh no! I can’t remember what he first said. I have to remember everything!”

My thoughts were racing. And then they turned to these:

“In one moment everything I loved, treasured, had known and held on to had been ripped out of my grasp; my entire existence devastated and destroyed. Words cannot express (although I’ve tried!) the depth of pain, grief, shock, sadness and betrayal that were mine in a single moment. Yet just 13 months later, although I’ve been absolutely convinced no one would ever want an ‘old bag’ like me again, that I was destined to remain alone for the rest of my existence, that my children would remain ‘fatherless’ and without male influence during the formative years of their childhood, my entire world is on the brink of near complete and total restoration. Words also cannot express the joy, exhilaration, depth of healing, happiness, and trust in something new–new hopes, new dreams, this new man, a new life, a new future and new possibilities–that are mine again. How can this be?”

In that moment I was overwhelmed by all that I had lost, by all that I had gone through, by all that I had learned, and also by gratitude for all that was now mine. I was so overwhelmed by all of that, tears rolled down my cheeks.

I think that’s one essential part of fairy tales that The Brothers Grimm and The Disney Corporation leave out of their stories. I bet those princesses cry when they realize that despite everything they’ve lost and have gone through–despite the dark forests they’re thrust into, the poison apples they’re handed, the cinders they sweep and the floors they scrub–they are on the brink of their happily ever. How can they be anything but overwhelmed by the emotions that surface when they see there really is a chance, after all, that all of their dreams can come true? And that maybe their lives are going to, as all fairy tales do, end with the promise of happily ever after.

Yes, I bet they cry. I know I did. Because, “Being a princess isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” (Princess Diana) You’re just going to have to trust me on that one. I don’t recommend anyone find out the way I did!

So, “If you see me as just the princess then you misunderstand who I am and what I have been through. (Mariah Carey) Because all princesses are more than the sum of their miseries and the towers they’re locked in.

“I love that whole princess mentality, but I also like throwing my hair in a ponytail and just wearing jeans, going on a hike and then eating a big chili-cheeseburger.” (Jennifer Love Hewitt)

To Forgive, Divine

Life is an interesting experience. A ride, complete with highs and lows, ups and downs, totally unplanned derailments, and the occasional unexpected events that force you to change to a completely different ride!

It’s interesting that sometimes we struggle to let go of the old ride, we resist enjoying the new ride we’re blessed with, and we can have a VERY hard time forgiving the people who forced us to leave the old ride we were enjoying.

I have to take a break from blogging my story to share some thoughts on an important concept that has made peace, happiness, joy and moving on possible in the new and unexpected ride of my life. My thoughts are on this: Forgiveness.

Sometimes it feels like it’s in short supply. And as hard as it might be in some instances, it is necessary to forgive others if you truly want to be able to live, or create a life of happiness and joy, especially after unexpected adversity comes. There is no other way. We have to let go, and we HAVE to forgive.

But don’t take my word for it. Take an expert’s. Listen to C. S. Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century and probably the most influential Christian writer of his day. He wrote more than 30 books, and few writers have inspired more readers than he has. His works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year.

Here’s what he said that helps me: “When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people…forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or no bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn’t mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart–every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.” (Virtue and Vice, page 22)

“I said…that chastity was the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. But I am not sure I was right. I believe there is one even more unpopular. It is laid down in the Christian rule, ‘Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.’ Because in Christian morals ‘thy neighbor’ includes ‘thy enemy,’ and so we come up against this terrible duty of forgiving our enemies. Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’ So do I. I wonder very much…I am not trying to tell you…what I could do…I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it.”

As we forgive, especially as we let go in very trying and difficult circumstances, when we rise above the lies, betrayals, greed, crimes, selfishness of others who have hurt us, and any other “bad” thing that happens to us, we are on our way to becoming what we must: better people; better for the experience; better prepared for that which is to come.

As we forgive, it is probably only then that we learn how to truly live.

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In the spring of 2009, after I entered the beginning phase of my unexpected life but before my divorce was final and I moved to Utah, my oldest came to me and invited me to go for a drive with him.

It was dark, late at night, but you never turn down an opportunity to spend time with your children. Especially at their invitation. Especially living through what we were living through. We were all we had.

We got in the car, he drove, and he headed away from the city lights toward the rural areas near our neighborhood. Pretty soon he spoke. “Mom,” he asked. “Do you WANT to move to Utah?”

Clearly, the move was on his mind and I couldn’t blame him. He was one of the few kids today who had lived in the same house, with the same schools and friends, never moving, everything the same, since he was eight months old. And now we were moving to begin a completely new life his junior year of high school in another state. Not quite the ideal time for such change. But then again, is there ever an ideal time to lose your entire life and everything you have ever known? At barely 16 years old?

How did I answer that?

With the truth.

I told him I’d been a Colorado resident since 1974 and had lived in the Denver area, with the same phone number, for 20 years. The only time I had left Colorado since then was to attend college, and even then, I loaded the moving van THE DAY I graduated from college and returned to Colorado. I reminded him I had built my entire adult life in Denver and living in Colorado was all I had ever really known. Most of my friends were in Colorado. Would I choose to leave all of that? Would I willingly do it if I didn’t HAVE to?


But the job I desperately needed and had been hired to do (and was grateful for) was in Utah. Try as I had to stay in Colorado, everything had worked out for a new life in Utah. I had come to realize and accept that. I truly FELT that Utah was where we were supposed to go, for some reason.

My son looked at me with a shocked expression. (I guess I hadn’t complained enough about all of the changes and the move because he hadn’t realized the move might be hard for me too.) But it seemed to help him to know that the move was difficult for me too.

Kindred spirits in our grief.

So we made the move. It would be less than truthful if I didn’t admit IT WAS HARD. There were moments I wondered if my oldest would be scarred for life from the experience. It terrified me when I’d make the last round through the house late at night, before I went to bed, and I wouldn’t find him in bed. (That happened several times.) In a panic, I’d search the entire house and not find him. And then I’d eventually discover him outside, in the dark of the warm summer night, on the front lawn sobbing his grief.

It killed me. I couldn’t help but join him. All I could say through my tears was, “I’m sorry. I am SO SORRY that this is the life I have given you. I wanted more for you. You deserve more. But I promise you, I am here for you and will do anything I can to help you. Someday it will be all right.”

But inside I wondered how it, and he (and if I’m being totally honest, me, too) would ever be all right.

We endured the slow start to adjusting and making friends in a new state. We endured all that switching high schools entailed. It was hard for him to let go of his old life. Not the money–the life, the friends, the place he lived, the activities he participated in, everything BUT the money, actually. He felt as if he had lost everything.

In a way, I guess it was good for me. At the time I was so sick with worry about my children and helping them get through their experiences, I couldn’t really even take a moment to think about myself. I had to focus my effort and energy into helping my children make the transition, and as I did, somehow I made it right along with them.

Fast forward several months. And that same son came to me and told me he liked Utah. And then one day he told me he liked his new high school better than his old one. And then he told me he was happy and felt completely normal! I knew, then, that we had arrived. And everything really would be ok. All right.

Fast forward a few more months. And last night, my son got home from work at 11 p.m. and came to check in with me. The house was quiet, everyone else was asleep, and he invited me to go for a drive. All I could think about was the last drive I remembered taking with him. In Colorado.

I must have looked surprised, maybe even hesitant, because he entreated, “Come on, mom. I haven’t seen you all day. Lets talk.” You never turn down an opportunity to spend time with your children. Especially at their invitation.

We got in the car. He drove.

He talked to me about life and his contentment, happiness and joy with all of it was evident. He asked me about my life, and I told him how good my life is, but did share one small worry with him. He stopped the car, smiled at me, put his hand on my knee, patted it, and told me it would be all right.

And it will be.

Both he, and I, know it.

We just keep driving. And eventually, everything IS all right.

Our destination? Peace, happiness and joy…in our unexpected life. All right.

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An Introduction To My Journey

There is no other way to say it.  In life, unexpected things happen.  You have grand plans, big dreams, things to do, places to go…and then something unexpected happens to interrupt it all.  That changes your life.

I think what matters is not what happens to you, but what you do with your unexpected life.  Do you give up and quit because life didn’t turn out according to your plan?  Do you keep at it, but complain incessantly until no one can tolerate your whining or stand to be around you? Or do you take what you have and seek to create a life of meaning, that brings you happiness and joy, in spite of it all?

I choose happiness and joy. But I don’t believe happiness or joy is a place you arrive at.  It is something you have to look for and let yourself feel along the way…of an unexpected life.

Perhaps Alfred D. Souza said it best:  ”For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin, real life.  But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.  At last it dawned on me that these obstacles WERE my life.  This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness.  Happiness IS the way.  So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.  Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

Following is my journey, seeking happiness, joy and LIFE, in spite of it all.

The unexpected life.

The Rest of the Story