Living Happily Ever After


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The Real Measure of Wealth

“They say it is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable, but how about a compromise like moderately rich and just moody?” (Princess Diana)

I’ve been what some might consider “rich” once or twice in my life, and I’ve been poor a few times too. But I’ve never held with defining “rich” in terms of money.

“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” (Unknown)

Most people never get to learn how much they’re ACTUALLY worth. Lucky me, I guess. And I have a Ponzi scheme and my unexpected life to thank because although they served up my financial devastation on a platter of crime, they reminded me of something I’ve always known: I’m rich.

“There are people who have money and people who are rich.” (Coco Chanel)

I don’t have money.

But I’m rich.

If you want to feel rich, just count the things you have that money can’t buy. And you’ll realize you’re rich, too.

Looking to Make a Statement?

Once a woman has forgiven her man, she must not reheat his sins for breakfast.  ~Marlene Dietrich
I got an email from my former husband last week. In it, he listed the many things he has said and done, all of the changes he is trying to make in his life (from prison), so that someday I’ll forgive him.

I was absolutely blown away by that.

I forgave him a long time ago. I’m not sure exactly when, all I know is that from the moment my unexpected life began, I sought to forgive Him. My children know I have forgiven their father. My friends and family know I have forgiven my former husband. I think the world knows it, too, but somehow He never got it.

I told him  I have already forgiven him; in fact, that I forgave him as quickly as I could.

He sent me another email, told me I have no idea how long he has waited to hear me say that, thanked me for forgiving him and again pointed out everything he had said and done to make my forgiveness possible.

I was blown away by that too.

I have always known to forgive. My parents taught me to say I was sorry when I did something wrong and to forgive others when they did something wrong and said they were sorry. As I grew older, they taught me to forgive others whether or not they said they were sorry, or even WERE sorry, for what they had done. I am so grateful for my parents and what they taught me. Because as an adult, I saw too many people who allowed the actions of others, or their life experiences, to literally ruin them. I saw too many people focused on the wrongs that had been committed against them, too many people with souls cankered by hatred for things others had done and not enough people focused on everything “right” in their lives.

I realized, not for the first time, that life may not be a lot of things–easy, breezy, calm or fair–but life is always a choice. To live or not to live. To be happy. To laugh. To have faith. To hope. To forgive.

Yes, forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is a choice we must make, regardless of the choices made by anyone else.

I was stunned that I lived with someone for 20 years and he didn’t understand that. I was amazed that He had watched me teach and train our children, including to forgive others, and he never got it. So I had to clarify a few things with him. I told him that although I was glad he sought to do what was right, my forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with him or anything he has said or done to demonstrate his sorrow. My forgiveness is all mine; and it doesn’t hinge on what he or anyone else does. I forgive because I believe the world is in great need of its sweet fragrance.

“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” (Mark Twain)

Forgiveness was a choice I made. And although I did it because it was the right thing to do, I also did it for me–so I wouldn’t destroy the rest of my life or poison my soul, harbor a grudge, or carry the burden of hatred and venom like an unproductive boulder-filled backpack weighing me down because of an unwillingness to forgive.

I don’t believe you earn forgiveness.

You earn money. You earn trust. If you’re wise with your money (and can keep it out of the hands of Ponzi schemers) you may even earn interest. But you can’t “earn” the forgiveness of another.

“I wasn’t satisfied just to earn a good living. I was looking to make a statement.” (Donald Trump)

One of the most important statements we can make in life, unexpected or otherwise, is this: I forgive.

In The Minority

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” (Ralph W. Sockman)

My ex-husband realized he was in the minority when he first arrived at the minimum security of the incarceration facility. He was part of a group of five inmates. The deputy asked, “How many of you have been here before?” He was shocked to see he was the ONLY ONE who didn’t raise his hand!

He couldn’t help but notice as a white man, without a tattoo, he was again in the minority at the facility.

As he got to know the personal situations of the men, he realized that having been married to one woman for 20 years and having four children with just one woman, also put him in the minority. Most of the men he met had children with several women. One man had eight children by seven women!

Another way he differed from the majority of the inmates he interacted with was in the language he used. He may have been the first inmate in history to attempt to express himself forcefully not with profanity, but with his own “strong” words: “darn it,” “shucks,” and “crap.” The other men in jail began to use those same words around him, saying them with a smile, and then laughing as they mocked his vernacular totally unexpected in the inside.

But it’s ok to be different. Even in the unexpected life. Even in prison.

The man in the minority didn’t completely “fit in” to the environment in which he lived. And the men in the majority excelled in tolerance for his “oddities.” Their friendship grew despite their differences. And as inmates arrived and departed for other facilities and other places, they were sad to see each other go.

“Happy trails to you, until we meet again.” (Dale Evans Rogers)

It can happen. Even in prison.

Anti-Aging Secret of The Unexpected Life

“Appearance is something you should definitely consider when you’re going out. Have your girlfriend clip your nails or something like that.” (Usher Raymond)

Appearance. Many times, it’s everything (as far as shallow standards go.) And no time does it seem to suffer more, in my opinion, than in an unexpected life.

I see women receive makeovers after life changing events: having a baby, losing weight, when the youngest child goes to college, re-entering the workforce, etc…But one I’ve never seen, yet is probably needed more than any other time, is after someone is handed an unexpected life on a platter of darkness and devastation. Sort of like I was. Where is the free makeover when you’ve been dealt not just one major life change, but many, all in one moment? Where is a complimentary makeover when you really need one and for the first time, have no money at all to pay for help with your appearance? Where is Oprah, Good Housekeeping, or What Not To Wear when you need them?

Sadly, in my experience, there is no free makeover for the unexpected life geared to improve the way the way you look. But I’m starting to believe if you hold on long enough, things can improve on their own.

One of my aunts called the other day to tell me she is particularly struck by how young I look–now. (That is always welcome news in your 40s!) She said she couldn’t believe how carefree, happy and how much younger I appear. She isn’t the only person who has mentioned that to me. So many people have commented to me about that, I finally asked my sister, “What did I used to look like?”

Without missing a beat, my sister said, “Defeated and exhausted. But how could you have looked anything else with all you were living through and going through?”

I guess I thought I was a better actress than I’d actually been. I had no idea anyone could see through the fake smiles I shared, day after day, month after month, for awhile. I had tried so hard to “look” like everyone else only to find out, after the fact, that my performance wasn’t an astounding success; it wasn’t as convincing as I’d hoped.

I do remember at the time I was unexpectedly thrust into my unexpected life, in the throes of shock and grief and fear and trying to stay afloat in the sinking ship that had become reality for me and my children, looking in the mirror and thinking, for the first time in my life, that I looked like an “old bag”: old, faded, wrinkled, blah, tossed aside, alone, past my prime and with not a lot going for me any more.

I guess when you lose everything in a single moment, the shock and devastation that is indescribable takes a serious toll on your appearance!

But I also think as you get a handle on your unexpected life, and seek to find happiness and joy anyway, it is also manifest in your appearance.

So forget those expensive anti-aging creams and potions.

Choose to be happy in whatever life you’re living, whatever the unexpected life you’ve got, and I believe eventually you’ll look younger too.

“How things look on the outside of us depends on how things are on the inside of us.” (Unknown)

I hope I’m living proof of that.

And I Am Going To Have…

I remember the night my middle son asked, “Does it stink to have an ex-husband?”

And how trying to look for the good, led me to respond, “It is a bummer, but I guess it’s better than never having had any husband at all!”

That was also the night he told me I needed to get a boyfriend.

I told him I didn’t need a boyfriend. He replied, “That’s right, because you’re too busy working and you have to spend time with us kids, too.”

Ever the mother, I corrected him. “No, I WANT to spend time with you. I GET to spend time with you. I love being a mom, I don’t do any of this because I ‘have’ to.”

Poor guy, he had a lot of thoughts and feelings to work through; because a few nights later, he said, “It would be a bummer to have a stepdad.”

One year ago, when those conversations took place, it was hard for me to imagine that situation AT ALL. But I did tell him, “I don’t think you can ever have too many men be an influence for good in your life. You can never have too many good men who love you and are there for you. And you can never have too many friends. I don’t see a problem with that situation at all!” (Nothing like optimism, huh?)

I also shared with him the many good men who have been an influence for good in my life since my own dad passed away. My life has been greatly enriched by many men who have cared about me, loved me, served me, counseled me and helped me in a variety of ways the past 24 years.

I don’t know that I’d totally convinced my son at that point, but I could see him thinking–and he at least had the good grace to nod his head in agreement with me.

Cut to 2010.

I was walking in the hall of my son’s elementary school a few days ago and saw his picture hanging on the wall above an essay he had written about himself. It was all very cute, but one part caught my eye and I had to read and re-read it, over and over again. It made me shake my head…and smile.

“What makes me happy? My mom is getting married and I am going to have a stepdad.”

Frederick Keonig said, “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”

What a huge advantage for my son to learn that at only 10 years old. He’s light years ahead of many other people, especially and including adults, many of whom have yet to learn that important lesson. And once again, we have our unexpected life to thank for that.

Shock…And A Grin

“Crimes sometimes shock us too much; vices almost always too little.” (Augustus Hare)

Night before last I was up until midnight, hanging out and chatting with my oldest. Talking about anything and everything EXCEPT the sentencing of his father which took place yesterday. But it had to have been on his mind because he didn’t seem to want to be alone with his thoughts; I sensed he needed someone to talk to.

When he went to bed, I checked on my 10-year-old and found him crying in his bed, worried about the pending sentencing of his father. I offered words of encouragement, tried to help him look at the bright side and attempted to cheer him up–until nearly 1:30 a.m. It broke my heart and I realized in that moment, regardless of the outcome of the sentencing and the remorse my former husband feels for what he has done to so many people, there are some things he just won’t quite understand. He hasn’t been around to witness it firsthand; he has been incarcerated. He hasn’t had to look into the devastated faces of our children. He didn’t have to (or get to) watch them live with pain He caused. He hasn’t had to help them pick up the pieces and struggle to carry on and create a new life when the going was tougher than any of us ever imagined.

But, I sent everyone to school, to press forward in their lives and with their responsibilities despite the challenging circumstances–and I went to work, too, awaiting word of the sentencing outcome. Looking back, I think I worked all day under an inordinate amount of stress. I don’t think I even realized the stress I was operating under until I got a phone call near the end of the day. A Colorado friend was calling to report the outcome of my former spouse’s sentencing hearing for operating a Ponzi scheme/stealing over $20 million.

I anticipated, based on the last collect call I received from my former spouse, that the hearing would take two hours. Instead, more than eight hours later my friend called, crying, to report the maximum sentence had been handed down in a courtroom whose atmosphere was so tense and hateful she felt sick to her stomach.

I don’t know what more I can say about the importance of choosing to heal instead of hate, but I love what Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.) He was absolutely right.

So as my friend recounted the events of the day, I really only heard a few words: The maximum, 12 1/2 years.

How was I going to tell my children?

I don’t know what I wanted the outcome to be; I don’t know what I expected. I have only prayed that I will be o.k. with whatever the judge decides and that somehow, I will be able to help my children be o.k. with it too. But to hear the words, “151 months,” “12 1/2 years” shocked me. It sent me into a very unprofessional, uncontrollable crying-in-the-workplace episode; the likes of which I never expected or imagined.

My poor co-workers. I’ve held it together for over a year. I’ve never done anything like that in public that I can recall. But today was so unexpected. The unstoppable wail of a woman in shock, broken-hearted, traumatized by the senseless destruction and tragedy unleashed on so many by the terrible choices of one man. The grief of a mother knowing the next time her teenage son saw his father that son would be almost 30 years old. The cry of a single mother trying to hold her little family together, knowing she had be the one to share the bad news and see pain in a little boy’s eyes, again, when he learned the fate of his father.

If I ever think I’m having a bad day…remind me of March 18, 2009, or September 14, 2010.

Shaking, somehow I managed to drive all the way home, bawling, and tried to pull myself together enough to face my children. To break their hearts one more time. I’ll never forget the dread I felt as I pulled up to my home, knowing what I had to go inside and do. Break my children’s hearts.

I spoke with my daughter first. I told her the outcome and she accepted it calmly, with grace and dignity (unlike her mother.)

I sat my 10-year-old down and prepared him for the news. He was happy and smiling until that moment then a serious expression came to his face as I shared the events of the day. Instead of the devastation I anticipated, he chose to look at the bright side, “Well, if he has already served 13 months, and he gets time off for good behavior, he’ll be free to see us when I’m only in college! That’s not so bad!”

Stoic and optimistic. All on his own. I could not have been more proud of him than I was in that moment. And despite the terrible struggle coming to terms with his father’s choices has been for him, I was amazed at how my sweet son has grown over the past 18 months. If I can only help him realize that if he will choose to handle all of the setbacks that come his way like today’s, he is destined for greatness–regardless of, or perhaps because of, his adversity.

My oldest son got the news on his phone before he even got home. When I sat him down to tell him, he already knew. Everything was what he had expected, and he is to the point in his life where he is actually grateful for all that he has learned as a result of all that he has passed through. He can see how he has been blessed as a result of his trials, so he tried to laugh about it–revealing he and his sister had placed bets on the outcome and he had gotten out of doing the dishes this week!

I guess everyone deals with shock, grief and trauma in their own way. Who’s to say which way is right or wrong? Certainly not me. But as one co-worker encouraged when I was in the throes of my unexpected reaction and trying to apologize for it, “I’d worry about you if you didn’t react.”

Note to self: one “secret” to the unexpected life is to let yourself feel so you can heal. (Just remember: no wallowing!)

We did that yesterday, each of us in our own way, and as I sent my children to bed each had a smile on their face, which brought one to mine. We’ve survived another unexpected development in our unexpected life…and we came out grinning.

“It’s easy to grin when your ships come in and you’ve got the stock market beat, but the man worth while is the man who can smile when his pants are too tight in the seat.”

We’re going to be o.k.

And now, back to the chick-flick portion of my unexpected life. What’s coming just might be worthy of a grin, too.

An Invitation

“Find me a man who’s interesting enough to have dinner with and I’ll be happy.” (Lauren Bacall)

He was a very busy man. His invitation mentioned something about an evening had opened up, the only evening for the next month that he wasn’t busy, and amazingly enough, I was free the night he asked about. I accepted his dinner invitation.

When I asked if he would pick me up or if I should meet him somewhere he told me he thought it best we meet at the restaurant. “I wouldn’t ask you to do that all of the time, I just believe it’s best to meet at the restaurant the first date,” he said.

Then he dropped the bombshell. (AFTER I’d already accepted his invitation! Lol. Think of the worries and concerns I’ve mentioned—I won’t call them issues—traceable to aging, wrinkles, and being old; now think about my opinion of facial hair.) Bachelor #5 warned me about his appearance. Due to a theater role he was playing at the time, he said he had a beard; a gray beard, “like an old grandpa.” Then he corrected himself, “Actually, I am a grandpa. But not that kind of one!”

Forty-two years old with a four-year-old, and I had agreed to a date with a grandpa–with facial hair. And it was gray!

The holidays were approaching, I joked that it was his lucky day because I loved Santa Claus! (Did I REALLY say that? I did, and it’s true.) I just never imagined dating him.

The date was on.

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” (Ronald Reagan)

The Spaghetti Factory, to be exact.

Good Men Aren’t Jell-o!

“There are much easier things in life than finding a good man–nailing Jell-o to a tree, for instance.” (Author Unknown)

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of good men out there, I’m just thinking that many of them (most of them?) are already married! Thus the “long” list of bachelors I’ve compiled in my quest for a happy ending.

I’ve met some good men along the way. I’ve learned something from each new friend I’ve made. And interestingly, I even think most of them have helped me on the path to healing in one way or another, some much more than others.

However, after just two months of dating, I was tired of it. I had absolutely loved being single the first time. In fact, when I married in 1989, a part of me was sad to leave my single life. But not the second time around. Although I had determined to make the most of the situation I had been thrust in, and tried to look for the positive and attempted to make myself like it, after a couple of months I realized it wasn’t working. Given the choice, I would have chosen to be married to the right man rather than be single. The newness of it all, the “excitement” (if that’s what you call being unexpectedly single and forced to meet new people in your new life) had worn off.

I was simply a divorced mother of four who had never planned or expected to be in that position.

Now, many months later, the dreaded “I’ve gotten used to it” has transpired. Just what I didn’t want to have happen! But I guess you can say that about many aspects of the unexpected life. It is who I am. I don’t cringe when people realize I’m single (and divorced) and wonder what they’re thinking about me any more. I don’t try to hide the fact that I’m divorced. It is what it is.

I’ve had to completely leave my comfort zone and face life, and everything else, alone. I’ve learned to socialize by myself again. I’m happy. And believe it or not, there are even things I’ll miss about my single life should my situation ever change. I NEVER expected to say that!

I’ve also learned that life goes on. I don’t advocate divorce by any means, and I am a strong defender, despite my experience, of marriage and family. But I’ve learned the world doesn’t end when a marriage does. I still have my own little family. And despite the scar of divorce, we’re doing so well and feeling so whole, that on the infrequent occasion when someone refers to my family as “broken,” it surprises me. I don’t think of us as that way. Different than we once were, but NOT “broken!”

Yet I keep pressing forward in dating despite being tired of it. I tell myself I’m lucky. After all, not every woman gets to meet new people (handsome men), date them, and everything else attendant with the unexpected and single life. (That’s the PR spin I put on my situation for myself to motivate me not to quit or give up too soon. I just have to keep telling myself I believe it, too!)

So, in the spirit of pressing forward, let me tell you about another man.

Bachelor #5.

And I’m pretty sure he is NOT a fan of Jell-o.

You Can’t Be Single In Utah Without…

I’ll cut to the chase.

Since being single for the second time, I’ve learned a lot about myself. For one, I’ve realized I’m not a facial hair kind of gal. Too bad you can’t be a single male in Utah without…a goatee!

My preference for a smooth shave is a bit of a problem for me; because 90% of the men I’ve met and dated have had facial hair of some type, most a goatee. The first time I was single (in the 80s) I think I dated two guys with mustaches. And it didn’t work for me. At the time, I thought I just wasn’t interested in the guys. But now I realize it must have been the facial hair!

“You know, with that goatee, you kinda look like Satan.” (Joey, to Chandler, on “Friends”)

Joey wasn’t that far off! lol. I just think nothing makes a man look older than gray facial hair. And at my age, most men have that. Another reason to sport a clean-shaven face, in my age-paranoid opinion!

But, facial hair or not, I stay in the game. Because I’m an optimist. Although I was deceived by my husband in the biggest and unexpected ways for nearly two decades, and terribly betrayed in the other ones before it was over, I’m still looking for my “fairy tale” ending. My happy ending. Call me crazy, but I’m holding out for it! I just hope it doesn’t come attached to a goatee.

Until then, “Men are my hobby, if I ever got married I’d have to give it up.” (Mae West)

I look forward to giving up that hobby someday. But I won’t miss the…goatees!

Life Is Such a Roller Coaster Ride

One of the people left in the world who has known me the longest emailed me earlier this year with encouraging words and fabulous advice that I’ve tried to follow:  Life is such a roller coaster ride…we just have to hang on, scream real loud, and enjoy the ride!

In my experience, truer words have never been spoken.

And no ride made me hang on (or want to scream) more than the ride I was on April 2009 last year. My spouse had revealed His crimes, He was headed to prison, and I found out I would be left alone to provide for and raise our four children. My roller coaster car was rolling away from the gate and the ride of my life had begun!

Things seemed very black a lot of the time, yet the crazy optimist in me refused to give in to it and I tried to find the light in every thing that I could.  It was SUCH a roller coaster I can’t describe it. I was worried about providing for my family, finding a place for us to live, beginning a new life in every sense of the word, and I did it all amid negative publicity about my spouse for His ponzi scheme crime and the public collapse of my life and marriage. Yes, there were ups and downs!

One huge roller coaster was the financial aspect of things.  It was pretty bleak.

The day my spouse told me of His crimes, He had already turned himself in to the authorities and all of our assets had been frozen. I had no money.  I had four children to feed and shelter and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. That was a low.

The government authorities catalogued items for seizure and told me they were not interested in my jewelry.  I rejoiced!  That was a high!  I admit, I love things that sparkle; I always have.  And although I’d never asked for jewelry, my spouse had given me a few pieces as gifts over the years. I loaned them to friends as often as I wore them, and although I didn’t plan on ever wearing my jewelry again, I realized I could sell my jewelry for cash and use it to help support my children and rebuild my life.

Then my roller coaster car took one of those sharp, unexpected turns–the kind you hit just when you think your ride is about over–and started racing downhill again!  The government investigators returned to my home.  They apologized.  They said they knew they told me they weren’t interested in my jewelry and had told me I could remove it from my home but…did I have any diamond necklaces or tennis bracelets?

That day was a low.  That day I discovered my friends, who had worn my jewelry and knew everything I had, were providing lists of my possessions to the government, hounding them to take it,  and the government had to comply.  That day I wrote, “Sometimes I don’t know how I’ll go on.  I work so hard to think, ‘I’ll start over and make a new life,’ I make a plan to do that, and then every little thing the government tries to leave for me, my ‘friends’ make sure it gets taken away.  It’s not for me that I want anything.  It’s for my kids. I just need to provide for them. I want, I want, I want! There is so much I want. So many injustices I’m being dealt and there will never be any restitution to me for any of it.  I am the one victim who is not on the victim’s restitution list.  I am THE ONE who will just have to let go of it, forgive, and go on.”

The government asked me to give them a list of the jewelry I owned, which I did.  And they called, amazed, that I had admitted to MORE than they knew I had!  That was a high for me.  I continued to value my character and integrity above all.

Then I met with bankruptcy attorneys.  They were appalled at how, in their words, “completely bereft” a position I had been placed.  I don’t think they’d seen anyone left in my position, to start over with four kids to the extent that I had been.  That was a low.

That day I returned home feeling very alone, and when I arrived home my daughter said, “Mom.  It’s April Fool’s Day!” The irony completely got me, and must have shown in my face, because my daughter said, “What?  What’s wrong, Mom?”  I just smiled and said, “Nothing.  I’m fine.  I’m great.”  It was becoming my answer to everything.

There were many other financial highs and lows that followed and I eventually learned not to get too worked up in either direction, to wait and see how everything played out to avoid getting devastated time and again.  Sometimes roller coasters can be a bit much, too many highs and lows.

So I rode the roller coaster.  And I hung on.  I don’t recall that I ever screamed but I cried. And although I wasn’t overly successful at enjoying the ride, I had two goals for myself as I rode:  To not hate anyone.  And to be cheerful, happy, and optimistic.  I didn’t want to be anyone’s “downer.”