Living Happily Ever After


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Be True No Matter What

“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false and to incur my own abhorrence.” (Frederick Douglass)

Step 5: Hold your head up and be true to who you are no matter what.

Boy, for me in the wake of the destruction of 2009, this proved to be a hard one. It was NOT fun!

I remember the first Sunday after our life ended, my children looked at me and said, “We don’t have to go to church today, do we?” (None of us wanted to face our congregation for the first time after such a disaster.) And I had to be the one to say, “Yes, we are going.” Honestly, it wasn’t fun. In truth, it was awful. Not just the uncomfortable and awkward, but having my oldest sit on the pew and cry during the meeting while my middle son sat and drew on a piece of paper, “There’s a hole where my heart used to be” was terrible. I was grief stricken and disgraced, but we went to church because it was who we were. In life, you have to do that.

What I didn’t expect was an even greater challenge. A moment of temptation to be someone I was not and never had been.

Stay tuned.

No Sorrow That Cannot Heal

Step 4: Refrain from speaking useless words and never give in to what they spawn—anger, your’s or anyone else’s!

Thomas S. Monson once said the two most useless words in the English language are “if only.” He’s right, I’m sure, but I would also add two more: “why me?”

Too many people experience adversity—illness, financial reverse, betrayal, a divorce, an unexpected death, even a natural disaster—from which they never recover, usually the result of focusing on “why me” and “if only,” which leads to anger and a downward spiral that goes on to ruin not only their lives, but the lives of others. I was determined NOT to let that same thing happen to me when my world fell apart!

I’d had a friend whose husband betrayed her and asked for a divorce, and instead of carrying on she indulged in the four most useless words, which fed her anger (which she also indulged) to the point that she never recovered. She has been miserable for 11 years now and counting, still angry over what her former husband did, and she has completely ruined not just her life but the lives of her children. Meanwhile, her husband had remarried, had more children, is very happy and has a good relationship with his older children as well.

On another occasion, I met a 50-year-old woman without a job, a place to live, a winter coat or even shoes (other than sandals) in the snowy climate of Colorado. As I drove her to purchase a coat and some winter shoes, I couldn’t help but ask how she had arrived at such desperate circumstances. She said her dad had died unexpectedly when she was a teenager and that the experience had been very difficult for her because she had really loved her dad! She continued, “Why me? If only that hadn’t happened…” In that moment I realized I had been blessed with the same life experience she had, at close to the same age. I believe the difference was in what we had each allowed ourselves to indulge in.

It is never productive and actually, can be very destructive in my experience, if you let yourself indulge in, and wallow in, feelings of anger, resentment and hatred. Hatred, anger and resentment are like acid—they only destroy the vessel in which they are stored. And it IS possible to do that when instead of indulging in those feelings, you choose to allow yourself to heal.

“Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish; Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.” (Thomas More)


Find One Thing

“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.” (Winston Churchill)

The second step to surviving anything and living a thankful life is: find just ONE THING to be thankful for each day.

Years ago, James E. Faust told of being raised in very poor times that required the use of homemade soap—rough and terrible smelling. He said from that, every day that he had the good fortune to use soft, sweet smelling soap, he never got over being thankful for it.

Regardless of our circumstances, each of us has much to be grateful for, sometimes we just have to stop and realize that. I believe no matter HOW BAD things get, you can always find SOMETHING you’re blessed with or grateful for!

I remember at one of my lowest times, the drama of 2009 that was forced upon me when the man I was married to revealed he’d been running a Ponzi scheme and was heading to federal prison and everything that went along with those terrible crimes, there were moments (ok, probably several weeks or a few months, if we’re being honest!) where I wasn’t sure I had much, besides my children, to be grateful for.

I had to dig deep for gratitude.

I remember one day thinking, “I have never felt such despair. What can I find to be thankful for?” and honestly, the only thing I could find to be thankful for was that I was alive—still breathing, anyway—because if I weren’t, that would mean my children would be orphans. So I chose to be thankful for that—that I was still breathing.

Some days it may be the only thing you’re grateful for is the fact you’re still breathing, and that’s ok. Some days are just that terrible.

Just remember to be thankful for SOMETHING.

Such a Sappy Mom

“I’m a sappy mom now. I didn’t think I would be. I thought I’d be a cool mom who keeps everything in perspective.” (Katherine Heigl)

Not me! I’m such a sappy mom I had to step away from this blog for almost 3 months to get some perspective! And even when I did return, I couldn’t blog about the reason for my absence the first few posts. What  in the world happened? My oldest left home.

For real.

Yah, sure, he went “away” to college last year (as in lived in the dorms of Brigham Young University so he could have the complete college experience) but I live 20 minutes away and could drive by his dorm and look at the window of the room he lived in whenever I wanted, talk to him on the phone, text, help with his laundry, see and feed him once each week at Sunday dinner and ask him for help when I needed him. All of which I did.

But no more. And now that the Band-Aid of his departure has been ripped off what seemed like emotional millimeter after emotional millimeter, and my heart has had 3 months to heal, I’m ready to talk about it. Or at least explain why I haven’t been around: my son, Elder Merriman, is serving a two-year Christian mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And although his missionary service is something I believe in and raised him to do, it didn’t make it any easier for this sappy mother to let him go.

I cried every time I even thought about him leaving. Even the day before he left when we were packing up his bedroom and had one of our infamous and impromptu dance parties, I broke with tradition and bawled while busting my finest moves, the memory of which had to last two years. My missionary son said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Don’t EVEN tell  me you’re crying again!” But I was.

Thankfully, I’ve got the sap under control these days. Now I live for Wednesdays, the one day each week when Elder Merriman is able to take time out of his busy missionary labors to contact home and let us know what he’s been up to during his current assignment in the Canary Islands. Every week’s report is filled with a new adventure, fun fact of information I didn’t know before, or a growing experience; I’m so grateful he is where he is, doing what he is doing. (I just don’t think about the fact that last time I saw him in person was June 20, 2012 and the next time I’ll see him, in person, will be some time in June 2014! I don’t need THAT MUCH reality or perspective! Lol.)

What a privilege has been mine to to be a mother. What a joy that son, now Elder Merriman, has been every day of his life. (Despite a few moments isolated moments in 7th grade during his long hair and “skater” phase where his, or my, behavior may have given the illusion of something to the contrary! Lol.)

Love your kids.

And if you have a child, and if you have the good fortune to see them in person or to be with them today, give them a hug. From you, their mother…and from me.

“Son, you outgrew my lap, but never my heart.” (Unknown)







“I Love You”

“Where lipstick is concerned, the important thing is not color, but to accept God’s final word on where your lips end.” (Jerry Seinfeld)

I walked into my bathroom the other day and found a message from #5:  ”I Love You.” Written with Mac lip liner pencil on the mirror. (He said he couldn’t find my lipstick!) It was totally unexpected and it delighted me. Other than the boy I had a crush on when I was a teenager who “soaped” the windows in my bedroom and bathroom with fun messages when I turned 16 and could finally date him, I can’t recall anyone ever doing anything like that for me before.

Second marriage moment #13; followed closely by #13a and #13b.

Shortly after I found the love message, my five year old wandered into the bathroom. ”What’s that?” he asked.

“It says, ‘I Love You,’ and it’s from daddy to me,” I replied.

“How did he get it on there?” he asked.

I explained that it was written with lipstick, wasn’t that fun? He agreed, and got a big grin on his face. In the aftermath of the trauma we lived through two years ago, I confess, I’m always looking for signs that my children are healing, doing well, are happy and feeling secure in their young lives once again. Right about the time I started to think he must be feeling safe and secure knowing his new daddy love his mommy, he instead said, “Cool! I didn’t know we could write on mirrors!” (#13a)

I instantly realized my mistake and clarified that only daddies and mommies can write love notes to each other on mirrors. He was disappointed, but headed out to play while I breathed a huge sigh of relief that I had narrowly avoided who-knows-WHAT disaster should my youngest decide to add writing with lipstick to his creative arsenal.

But in a remarriage, if it’s not one thing, it’s another! For example, you can’t just quietly and privately enjoy a romantic message from your new husband. Especially if you have 8 children.

The next time I walked into the bathroom and felt my heart give a little leap at the sight, again, of the “I Love You” from #5, I saw a new message had been added below the original. “Ahhh, gee thanks!” Written by someone else. (Based on the handwriting, I think it was my 18-year-old.)

Second marriage moment #13b? The delight of having young adult children offer their take, and respond to, love notes from your husband!

“I love you more than I have ever found a way to say to you.” (Ben Folds)

Or write…on the bathroom mirror!

When You’re The One Who Has To Fix It

“The fellow that owns his own home is always just coming out of a hardware store.” (Frank McKinney Hubbard)

I’m pretty sure that’s how #5, my new husband, feels—especially since moving in with me and my four children! Gone are those carefree days he enjoyed as a single dad with one self-sufficient 12-year-old son, living quietly together in a townhome, retired from yardwork and a plethora of other things that now keep him busy! Like trips to Home Depot. Out of necessity. I’m pretty sure his new mantra is, “Well, I’m off to Home Depot!”

In the two months we’ve lived together, I’m embarrassed at the extra work I’ve caused #5. And I’m not just talking about the myriad of little things around a house that have needed to be taken care of—like the kitchen pantry door that broke and needed to be painted and replaced; the holes in the wall my youngest and his neighborhood friends made when trying to hang off shelves that used to be bolted to the wall; the hole in the wall caused by a child throwing open a door a little too fast with a little too much energy; toilets; clogged drains; doorknobs; garbage disposal issues; smoke detector batteries; and lots of burned out light bulbs that need to be replaced!

I’m talking about the day I stood and flushed the toilet at the exact moment a bottle of lotion fell off the shelf above it, STRAIGHT down the hole, at the exact moment the swirling water went with it. GONE! And then the toilet didn’t work anymore. (It had to be completely taken out of the bathroom and the lotion bottle practically surgically removed from its innards before replacing the toilet again.)

Or the day a decorative painted bowl, of its own free will, spontaneously fell off the shelf above the kitchen cupboards onto the Jenn Air stove top and shattered not just the bowl, but the entire stove top! (Not only was that one a lot of work for #5, but it was expensive, too! Oops.)

He has fixed it all without comment or complaint. He just smiles at me and goes to work to take care of it despite the fact he is NOT a home repairman. (I think he’d much rather be singing, playing the piano, acting, working out, dancing, or even reading instead.) In fact, he uses it so often, he has taken to keeping his toolbox at the ready beside his side of the bed!

And then one day, he broke something. Or at least, I thought he did. He looked at me with a stunned expression, and I started celebrating. “Yes! You finally broke something! I am SO glad! Think of everything I’ve broken and all of the extra work I’ve caused you, now I’m not the only one! I’m so relieved you broke something!” But no. I celebrated too soon. Turns out, #5 hadn’t broken anything after all.

But he remains a trooper and continues to fix, without complaint, all of the little things. He inherited a yard when he thought he’d never have to maintain a yard again. And, most importantly, he took on four additional children, including a four-year-old, when he had mostly raised his family. The impact he has made and everything he has helped “fix” around the house and in our lives astounds me.

Second marriage moment #9.

“There are a [heck] of a lot of jobs that are easier than live comedy. Like standing in the operating room when a guy’s heart stops, and you’re the one who has to fix it!” (Jon Stewart)

“Open, Sesame!”

“I turn on my computer. I wait patiently as it connects. I go online. My breath catches in my chest until I hear 3 little words, ‘You’ve got mail.’ I hear nothing, not a sound on the streets of New York. Just the beat of my own heart. I have mail…from you.” (“You’ve Got Mail”)

I had mail? I didn’t quite believe it, so, true to form, I denied it. (The Queen of Denial was back!)

“I DO NOT have mail.”

“Yes, you do,” said #5. “I am holding a letter from The First Presidency of The Church, addressed to you, in my hand.”

“Did you open it? What does it say?” I asked.

“No, I didn’t open it, it’s addressed to you!” he replied.

“Open it,” I requested.

“No,” he responded. “Because I haven’t been to my house, yet, to see if I have letter too.”

“Open it,” I requested. (Again.)

“No,” he answered. “What if it’s a letter telling you NOT to marry me?”

“OPEN IT,” I commanded.

So he did. There was a brief pause while he opened the envelope, removed the letter and silently read it. ”It’s the letter we’ve been waiting for,” he reported.

I didn’t know what to say. I still couldn’t believe it, so I denied it again and then asked him if he was teasing me. He finally put my oldest on the phone. ”Mom, it’s the letter. It’s to you from The First Presidency,” he said, and he began to read it to me over the phone.

I was at work. My children and #5 were gathered together at my home, reading my letter. They all sounded happy and excited. It was noisy in the background.

As for me? I’d waited so long, by the time I finally got my letter of authorization to marry in a temple, I’m not sure what I thought or felt in that moment. Relief. Excitement. Yet a sense of “this can’t be real” mingled with the other thoughts and emotions. I hung up the phone, my mind racing with thoughts of people I needed to call about my letter finally coming.

But instead, I hung up the phone and…unexpectedly…cried.

I wasn’t planning to do that.

“A woman can laugh and cry in three seconds and it’s not weird…” (Rob Schneider)

Certified Mail Spells Trouble

“Certified mail is scary. Got one from the IRS about a month ago and my heart hit the floor. Luckily, they were just notifying me I wouldn’t get a couple of refunds that were really old.” (Alien42, online forum)

I made an appointment and met with my pastor. He was fairly new to his position and didn’t know me very well (but we certainly got to know one another well during the application process and the wait for approval!) He couldn’t have been nicer to work with, more efficient or do a better job at following up, keeping in touch with me during the wait and checking up on me as I was waiting.

We sat in his office one spring evening in May 2010 and began the application. He informed me he’d need to ask my former husband for a letter and he needed to send the request certified mail. I told him that wouldn’t be possible as my former spouse resided in jail. My pastor brainstormed about how he could do what was required and work with a former spouse in jail. He said, “Hmm. I do need a letter, maybe I could send it certified mail? Maybe to the warden?”

That panicked me. There are very specific guidelines and rules that must be followed when sending mail to jails and prisons. (Another thing I’ve learned in my unexpected life.) Envelopes have to be a certain size; specific information and ONLY that information must appear on the outside of the envelope; pages of letters are limited (at the time, no envelope could contain more than three pages inside.) When the guidelines aren’t followed, the prison inmate can get in trouble.

When my former spouse first went to jail, I received mail guidelines from his attorney. I followed them strictly, including writing “legal mail” on the outside of the envelope as the guidelines I’d received had instructed. I assumed I had to do that to show I was a law abiding citizen sending nothing illegal to a prisoner in jail!


The attorney had forwarded me the guidelines for legal mail–legal mail for an attorney. And Shawn Merriman almost got in a lot of trouble because I was following those guidelines, too, when I reported to him regarding our children through letters. I was afraid anything like certified mail would get my former husband in even more trouble with the jail staff. I told my pastor we just couldn’t do that, certified mail could be really bad.

But I had a solution.

I had my own letter.

I’m sure, especially as a new pastor, he never expected to encounter a situation like mine. I wish you could have seen the look on his face when I told him I already had a letter! He probably wanted to roll his eyes and say, “NOW what?” But he didn’t. He asked, with quite a bit of surprise, “You already have a letter? How did you do that?”

“I have received no more than one or two letters in my life that were worth the postage.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden)

Who Are You?

“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” (Johann Schiller)

Returning to the singles scene following my divorce was an interesting experience, particularly when the subject of my four children arose. Each and every time a man asked me how many children I had, and especially when they found out all of them still lived at home, I witnessed a variety of reactions.

A blanch.



A swallow.

And then usually a change of subject!

I heard things like, “You’re 42 years old and you have a…THREE YEAR OLD? What were you thinking?” Certainly not that I’d be divorced and left alone to raise him and three other children just a couple of years after his birth.

Or, “That’s ok, I don’t have a problem with kids–as long as they’re provided for…BY SOMEONE ELSE.” No, ex-husbands in prison don’t make much money, and with large restitution orders hanging over their heads, probably never will. I am the source of support for my children.

There were many, many other comments and reactions. Too many to recount, actually. The few that didn’t fall apart at the mention of my four children, usually refrained from EVER mentioning them. In fact, they never brought them up. I guess they thought if they ignored the four elephants in the room, they might go away. NOT. (And I’d NEVER want them to!)

And then there were a very few, about four men, who asked me about my children, referred to my children by name, and offered kind comments occasionally.

Except #5. The first time I met him he asked me all about them. He didn’t blanch at the number of children, he simply said, “I have four kids too!” He took things a step further, and actually made an effort to get to know them: he took my children snowmobiling; he brought them gifts when he returned from an out-of-town trip; he had them over to his home for games and dessert; he took them to lunch once; and he always sat and chatted with them when he came to pick me up for our dates. He became their friend.

One afternoon shortly after our engagement, we pulled up in the driveway and my youngest and his neighbor friend came running to greet the car. When #5 rolled down his window to talk to the boys, the first thing out of either boy’s mouth was the neighbor boy’s question to #5 about his parental status. “Who are you? Are you his daddy?”

In that instant I wondered how #5 would handle that. It was the first time that conversation had confronted us. I sat back and watched to see what he’d say or do. But without missing a beat, #5 calmly replied, “I am!”

My youngest smiled, happy and content to know and to be able to show the neighbor boy he had a dad again. And the boys returned to playing. The question had been resolved. No big deal. But it was a momentous moment for me. One of the highlights of my engagement, in fact. One of the most tragic losses of my unexpected life was my children’s loss of their father. But thanks to #5, we all had everything we needed again.

And #5 became a father to a total of 8 children.

“Blessed indeed is the man who hears many gentle voices call him father!” (Lydia M. Child, Philothea: A Romance, 1836)

I guess you could say #5 is EXTREMELY blessed now.

As are we.

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.