(The next part is my story in a nutshell. I was speaking to a large conference of women I hadn’t met yet so I had to preface my remarks with my story. Feel free to skip if you already know me!)
I had been a pretty good girl…raised on fairy tales. I believed in happily every after. I grew up Colorado. I graduated from high school, attended college and married a charming, romantic and “good” man who, ironically, and as part of his marriage proposal, pledged his loyalty to me and our future. The day of my college graduation we returned to Colorado and began our life. We began our careers, we began our family. I focused my efforts on our home and family, we eventually had four children, and life was good. SO GOOD.
It was a life of family and faith. We loved each other, we went to church together, we prayed together, we served in the community as well, and as my husband became more and more successful in his career, we upgraded our home, our cars and our lifestyle. We enjoyed making family memories and traveling together. We got along well, we laughed and had fun together, we served and helped others. I thought we were on track for eternity.
Believe it or not, I had watched our investments and savings grow over the 20 years we’d been married, working hard (I thought) and saving…and I also thought I had 10 MILLION DOLLARS–thanks to compounding interest:) So on March 17, 2009, St. Patrick’s Day, my biggest worry was making sure everyone wore green, felt festive (I’d tried to do my part to contribute to that with green breakfast and a green dinner) and I took pictures of everyone in their leprechaun finery. What I didn’t know, was that I was documenting my family and the life I’d dreamed of and had worked so hard to create during my 20-years-of-happy marriage, in photos, for the last time.
At the end of the day, we went to bed. I slept–the last night I slept without anything to haunt me or give my nightmares about. And the next day, my husband shattered my world. March 18, 2009. He asked to meet me, told me he’d hoped to spend time with me.
Then he sat across from me, folded his hands and paused. And then, in a voice as calm and unemotional as I’d ever witnessed–NOTHING about his performance tipped me off as to what was about to happen, said, “My company, Market Street Advisors, is a sham.” One simple sentence, and the complicated web of choices, actions, and decisions of ONE person, the man I’d known since 1988 but apparently hadn’t known at all, shattered my world.
My first thought (always a party or holiday thought at that stage of my life!) was, “Is this an early April Fool’s joke? Doesn’t he remember yesterday was only St. Patrick’s Day?” And suddenly, despite my education and knowledge of English and vocabulary, I didn’t understand the world “sham.” He explained, “My company isn’t real. It’s a sham and has been from the very beginning. I’ve been running a Ponzi scheme for the past 16 years.”
I’d heard the term Ponzi scheme, but I didn’t know what a Ponzi scheme actually was. I’d heard the name Bernie Madoff, I knew he had done something illegal and I knew a lot of people were mad at him, but I didn’t understand what it was that he, or my spouse, had done. I got the condensed version. What I was told left me in complete and utter shock. But it didn’t stop there.
My husband told me he had hired an attorney, that he had turned himself in to government authorities and to our church leaders, and that they had all given him until that morning to tell me. He told me he would be going to prison and getting excommunicated from our church. He told me everything had been seized. He told me I would be left alone to raise our children. And he told me I needed to hire an attorney right away–but he’d maxed out all of our credit cards paying for his.
I, who had never cheated in school; who had never stolen so much as a grape from the grocery store without paying for it; who had always tried to live a life of honesty and integrity–wouldn’t even let myself indulge in “white lies”…needed an attorney? I was completely innocent! Like his employees, clients, family, friends and our church leaders, I’d never had a clue that he was anything but the honest, upright, family man and successful businessman he had always portrayed himself to be.
I had NO IDEA he’d been living a secret and double life.
All I could think of was that my parents were dead, I was left with NOTHING (no house, no cars, no food, no life, no savings, no job, no husband–TOTALLY alone in the world), I had four children who needed to eat, and I couldn’t get that movie “The Fugitive” out of my mind: the innocent husband, a good man, a doctor, who was convicted of killing his wife and imprisoned for something he hadn’t done and that he had no knowledge of. HOW could this be happening to ME?
I was shocked. I was stunned. I was confused. I was scared. I was devastated. And at the same time, I didn’t know what I thought or felt. All I knew was that I had been thrown out of an airplane…without a parachute. And as shocked as I was, for some reason, I had the presence of mind to ask, “Is that everything?”
Yet despite everything, I was not prepared for his response: No. After which he disclosed he had also betrayed me in the most intimate ways as well. And with that admission, he began to sob. To cry harder than I’d ever seen any man cry. And that’s when I knew it was real. It wasn’t early April Fool’s. It was some sick joke that everyone but me found funny. It was real.
As wave after wave of shock and grief washed over me, I didn’t know what to do. He had become an instant and literal stranger, yet on the other hand, I was still the happily married wife who, as I rushed to get up and to get away from him, actually felt guilty that I was abandoning him in a time of need. Despite my shock, I actually had the presence of mind to apologize for leaving him: “I’m sorry, but I have to get out of here.”
And I left. I jumped in my car and drove away, not knowing where to go, knowing no one could help me. I made it about 1/10 of a mile before I was crying so hard I couldn’t see anything and had to pull over so I didn’t accidentally hurt someone or myself!
I called my best friend. She was stunned, crying, as well and advised me to go to the bank and try to get some money so I could at least feed my children. I raced to the banks, got some cash, and eventually returned home because I didn’t know what else to do or where to go.
My husband’s attorney called. He apologized for the day I was having (he’d known it was coming–seems like everyone but me knew it was coming!), told me, again, that I’d need an attorney, and then said, “And whatever you do, don’t go near a bank. Don’t touch any of your bank accounts. Don’t try to access any money!” he warned.
Are you starting to tell I just am not cut out for the criminal life? My instincts are all wrong! The very FIRST thing I had done, the only thing, was to go to a bank and touch some money!
I was going to prison for sure, wasn’t I?
“There are many times when a woman will ask another girl friend how she likes her new hat. She will reply, ‘Fine.’ but slap her hands to her forehead the minute the girl leaves to yipe, ‘What a horror!’” (Marilyn Monroe)
Yes, I wish that’s all my horror entailed. Tune in tomorrow for the rest of the condensed version of my horror.
“You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it.” (Bill Cosby)
Step three to surviving anything and living a thankful life: look for the humor in your misery—it will be there.
As Marjorie Hinckley said, “In life, you can choose to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh!”
For example, the very night Shawn Merriman destroyed not just my world but our children’s world and we found out everything we’d thought was ours was gone and we’d be moving who-knows-where to rebuild a new life from scratch as the Five Musketeers (me, the mother, and my four children), my oldest son went downstairs and found a live mouse on the floor of his bathroom. (We lived on 3 acres, surrounded by fields; pests from the outside trying to get inside our home were an on and off again battle.)
He came upstairs to report the discovery and how he’d handled it—he’d scooped it up, dropped it in the toilet, and flushed! I brushed aside worries of what something like that does to the plumbing of a home—who knew how much longer we’d be inhabiting our home, anyway—and we looked at each other, laughed and said, “That’s one thing we won’t miss about this house and our life—MICE!” And chose to laugh at the “bright side” of our loss.
I also laughed several weeks later when my daughter gave her soon-to-be-single mother some advice about love and marriage. She told me I needed to get married to a good man so I “wouldn’t be alone forever.” Honestly, at that stage of the nightmare game we’d been forced to participate in, love was the least of my worries. I told her I wouldn’t marry again because I was an ‘old bag.’ She helpfully said, “Mom! Botox!” No disagreement with my assessment, just a helpful suggestion. I’ll never forget that one. In fact, I’m STILL laughing about it.
Turns out, we survived. And Bill Cosby was right: “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers. And once you find laughter, no matter how painful your situation might be, you can survive it.” (Bill Cosby)
My youngest is the most indecisive trick-or-treater I’ve ever known. Every year it’s an ordeal to get him to commit to what he wants to be for Halloween. Every year he assures me his decision is final. And every year he changes his mind at the last minute and ends up being something different.
Funny thing, though, his approach usually works out quite well for him. Like the year he scrapped his real costume on our way out the door to a party and instead wore an old puppy costume from the dress up box…and ended up winning the costume contest and a really nice prize that went with it!
This year was no different.
He wore his “real” costume, a skeleton, the day before Halloween to his 1st grade choir concert and that was enough for him to decide he was going to be something else the next day: a superhero. “Which one?” I asked, and he didn’t hesitate a moment before responding, “I’ll just wear my ‘J’ cape.”
So he went as himself to school the next day, in ordinary clothing underneath his superhero cape, his hair three different, dazzling and bright superhero colors—blue, purple and green! And of course, by the time it was time to go trick-or-treating that night, he was wearing a different costume again…an old costume from the dress up drawer…another puppy.
Watching Superjake, just being himself at a time not many people were, inspired me. And it got me remembering, again, that everyone has the capacity to be a hero. We can do anything. We can endure and triumph over everything, including our challenges; the unexpected life.
“What I do is based on powers we all have inside us, the ability to endure, the ability to love, to carry on, to make the best of what we have—and you don’t have to be a ‘Superman’ to do it.” (Christopher Reeve)
It just adds to the viewing pleasure of others if we do it wearing a cape…and superhero hair. Never underestimate the power of a hairdo.
“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.” (Ronald Reagan)
Last month my husband took me to see Olivia Newton John in concert. Even if I hadn’t loved her music or aspired to be her during my childhood and teenage years (yes, I had the white dress from Xanadu and wore my hair like hers!) that concert was a trip down the memory lane of my childhood and life.
It was also there that something very unexpected happened—and I’m not talking about the Olivia enthusiast next to me who didn’t sit down once during the entire performance, who had what appeared to be choreographed danced routines he performed to every song and who didn’t miss an opportunity to call out “I love you, Olivia!” every time there was a pause or break in singing. (For the sake of my husband’s reputation and honor, I should probably clarify that although I love that he knows every word to every song, sang along with Olivia and I and enjoyed the evening as much as I did…I’m talking about the man on the OTHER side of me!)
While sitting on the grass and enjoying the concert, I was unexpectedly struck by the most powerful sense of complete and utter satisfaction and contentment; a feeling of joy, gratitude, happiness and a love of life. Not just about life itself, but about the life I am living today.
Honestly, it surprised me.
Because I still have an occasional moment of trying not to compare the “then” with the “now.” Yes, a materially blessed life with a beautiful home, a house cleaner, a gardener, luxury cars, vacations and everything else that was mine in a former life was easier, in some ways, than the life I struggle to provide for myself and my children now. Yes, I lived one life I loved until 2009 at which time I began living a new and very different life in which I’ve found much unexpected happiness, joy and satisfaction. But it surprised me to be struck, unexpectedly, by such a powerful sensation that despite its many, many losses and the heartache and grief I’ve passed through, despite the challenges of the past and present and the extreme changes in every aspect of my life including lifestyle, I not only have incredible peace and joy but also total gratitude and contentment in and for my new one.
It made me realize that not only do you have to triumph over your challenges, you must embrace what has happened to you, accept it as a part of you and your life experience, own it (make it yours) and the triumph will be that much sweeter. It was an epiphany for me to realize that is what I had unintentionally done and that the happiness and joy that is yours, when you do that, is indescribable.
Really, it is. I highly recommend it to everyone living an unexpected life. Because when you get to that point, I believe you really ARE experiencing, living AND FINDING JOY in your unexpected life. You’re living your “happily ever after.”
“Freeing yourself was one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” (Toni Morrison)
A final thing I realized after seeing the June 20, 2012 segment of “American Greed” is that watching a television show about your former life and the crimes of your former husband is not conducive to…romance with your new one!
My husband and I watched the show together. I don’t know what he was thinking or feeling during the whole thing, but a part of me felt sicker and sicker inside with every commercial break. It was a strange experience to “relive” portions of the Ponzi scheme nightmare and it was surprising to learn new things about my former husband, truths about aspects of our previous life, things I’d always believed based on what he’d told me—only to find out from a television show that I’d been lied to about something else! (Even before the Ponzi scheme started.)
My husband was unusually quiet throughout the whole program and when it was over, without a word, turned out the light, rolled over on his side, and was silent. I was stunned! I felt pretty sick inside myself, but I was surprised at my husband’s unfriendliness toward ME. The show hadn’t been about me; I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“Are you going to sleep right now?” I asked through the darkness.
“Yes,” my husband answered.
“Without even saying goodnight?” I questioned.
He replied, “Watching a TV show about your wife, her former husband, their life together—seeing the family pictures, vacations and everything else, isn’t exactly conducive to romance.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
I felt pretty sick myself.
So I willed myself to stop thinking—about the show I’d just seen, about the actions of the man I’d been married to, about the response of the man I am currently married to and about men in general (lets just say I wasn’t thrilled with any man, in general, that night! haha) But in the morning, I had a new and better perspective on the whole thing:
“A woman has got to love a bad man once…in her life, to be thankful for a good one.” (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings)
Color me thankful.
And remind me to be more careful of the TV shows we watch together in the future.
“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.
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)
“Sliding headfirst is the safest way to get to the next base, I think, and the fastest. You don’t lose your momentum, and there’s one more important reason I slide headfirst, it gets my picture in the paper.” (Pete Rose)
I’m talking about a different kind of slide: letting things go. (But don’t count on getting your picture in the paper for this!)
There are only so many hours in a day and I think all mothers, especially those that work full-time outside the home, could stay busy 24 hours a day if they had the energy or the ability to stay awake and work on their “to do” lists for that long! But not only would it be unhealthy, it would be impossible to do for very long. So let things go.
Let yourself let some things go…and don’t sweat it.
I’ve realized my children aren’t going to be scarred forever if there’s dust on the piano today, or this year (if we’re being honest.) And that our true friends will still like us (and won’t even comment, actually) if they walk by the open door of the laundry room and it’s piled up. Some things truly can wait for the weekend, or for an extra week (or more!) until you can get to them.
The only thing that can’t and doesn’t wait is…time. Put people ahead of tasks to be accomplished or work to be done and if you do that, you’ll have no regrets— and that’s the best way to live life, in my opinion: with no regrets.
Chat with your children and let other things go, if that’s how limited your time is. (That’s why sometimes I go a week, or a month, between blog posts! There’s just not enough time to do everything all of the time.) Finish up the rest of the dinner dishes in the morning if you have to. (I confess, I’m guilty of this on occasion. I just keep telling myself my children and my future children-in-law will be the better for my imperfections! I’ll never be the intimidating, “perfect” mother or mother-in-law; my children and in-laws won’t be able to do anything but look at me and feel better about themselves! Lol.)
As a new mother, some of the best advice I got came from a friend my own age, in my own situation and I believe it applies to mothers, especially working mothers as well. I’ve always tried to live by it. Even now, especially in the unexpected life. She said, “Make your list of things to do each day and give yourself credit, count the whole day as a success, if you accomplish just ONE thing on it!” As a working mother, words to live by, for sure!
Take your child to the park? Check. Your day was a success!
Make the bed, drive carpool, drop off at daycare, remember lunch money for children, commute, work for 8 hours, straighten a mess, cook dinner, do the dishes, fold a load of laundry, read to a child, pet the dog, go for a short walk or sit on the porch and watch your kids play, read for five minutes? Check. A SUPER SUCCESSFUL DAY! (Don’t let yourself even THINK about everything else that didn’t get done.)
And some days, if you just get out of bed and carry on? Check. That day’s a success too!
Be liberal with the credit you give yourself and your recognition of your day’s “accomplishments.” It’s actually simple to be successful, especially in my new world.
“If you want to be successful, it’s just this simple. Know what you are doing. Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing.” (Will Rogers)
I had the opportunity to speak at a women’s meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ephraim, Utah this week. I was asked to speak on “Your Happily Ever After.” Here are excepts from what I said.
“I was raised on fairy tales: Cinderella, The Goose Girl, Snow White and Rose Red, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Seven Ravens, The Little Tin Soldier, The Emperor’s Nightingale and others.
Every fairy tale began with the words “Once upon a time.” Each one detailed the life of the heroine—which always included extreme adversity. And somehow, despite every hardship and challenge the heroines endured, they were obedient; they were kind to others; they performed their labors with a smile; and while every heroine in the illustrations was always beautiful on the outside they also each demonstrated their true beauty, their inner beauty, as they humbly accepted their unjust circumstances and the wicked treatment of other characters in the story and endured to the end, eventually, enjoying a “happily ever after.”
Fairy tales are and always have been absolutely believable to me. My mom, grandmother, female ancestors and other noble women have all lived them: life stories filled with ups and downs, adversities and triumphs, and in the end, a happily ever after. Doesn’t every woman do that? I believe we do when we endure to the end of challenging plot developments in faith, although each of our stories are in various stages of completion and many chapters have yet to be written.
Now you know my background and what I believed in when I was handed my own, but unexpected, “once upon a time” opportunity: a story of adventure, overwhelming darkness, evil, obstacles, injustice, courage, hope, tender mercies, miracles, overcoming, romance, eventually everlasting love and, of course, a “happily ever after!”
My once upon a time began when I was born to goodly parents. Later I graduated from Brigham Young University, married and enjoyed a happy marriage for the next 20 years, had 4 children, served in our church and community and enjoyed many material blessings as well—a comfortable home, a swimming pool, a Sport Court, luxury cars, a second home in Yellowstone, a world-class art collection that was loaned to museums around the world, world travel and financial means. (Over the years, I’d watched our investments and savings grow to well over $10 million dollars. I thought I was on track for, and living, the happily ever after of my life.)
And then our life, marriage, family, world, everything, ended in one moment when my husband sat me down and confessed that his company was a sham. That in reality, all those years I’d thought he’d been going to work every day and running an investment company, he had actually been perpetuating a Ponzi scheme. He’d already hired an attorney, turned himself in to the government and to church leaders, and anticipated serving 5-7 years in prison. Our house, cars and assets were gone; I was left alone, the sole parent and support of our four children; and my parents were dead.
To this day I can imagine very few storylines worse than the one that was written in to mine! (I even had a friend whose young husband was dying of cancer tell me she’d take her life over mine any day! And sadly, I would have, too.) Oh, and on top of everything else, he told me I’d need an attorney even though I’d done nothing wrong and how sorry he was that he’d maxed out the last of our credit cards paying for his attorney!
I can’t adequately describe the despair, the darkness, the shock, the grief, the fear and the humiliation associated with my nightmare—I mean fairy tale. As an added bonus, my husband’s victims included neighbors, friends, family members as well as my closest lifelong friends, and the shock and rage at my husband and what he had done was extended to my children and me, but especially to me. The hatred was indescribable.
My world collapsed, my marriage ended and it all played out on national television and in newspapers nationwide. The stress was so great it led to what I like to call the felony diet—7 pounds GONE that first day! But the worst was facing my children and witnessing the destruction of their world, their childhood innocence and their fairy tale lives go up in flames (or out the door, courtesy of the U.S. Marshalls.) Shortly after my husband’s revelations, I saw my 9-year-old writing on a piece a paper: “There’s a hole where my heart used to be. My dad is going to prison.”
We lost anything, everything and more that had been paid for with tainted funds; we lost everything of worldly value. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be thrown into a fairy tale like that. Everything I’d worked toward and built my entire adult life was gone. I didn’t know how I was going to live, to feed my children or survive. I didn’t know what was ahead.
I’ve been asked to get personal with you regarding my experience so I thought I’d share the first person account of what I lived through, a few of my journal entries, written in those dark days—mingled with the things I learned and the principles I tried to live by.
1. As you’re writing your life story never forget that the story may develop in ways you never expected, you may get to live some very unwanted chapters, but that doesn’t have to change the end of your story—or that you’re expected to get there anyway.
Right and wrong don’t change just because your life does. Don’t let yourself make excuses for doing or not doing certain things just because things have become “harder.” And contrary to what I was tempted to believe when I was thrust into my fairy tale opportunity, life doesn’t end just because your world does. You have to keep living. You have to keep striving for happiness and joy in it too, you just may have to get a little more creative or work a little harder to make your life is one of equal happiness and joy to the one you lost! Make sure you’re doing everything you can to triumph, keep on keeping on, let go of anger/resentment/fear, and in the end, you’ll become more than you ever thought possible.
2. No matter what you think you’ve lost, you are still left with something you just may have to look really hard to find it! Count your blessings despite your trials. Look for the good.
“I found out today there will be notices on our home that it’s seized by the government. Embarrassing? Maybe, but I’m counting my blessings that at least it’s a roof over our heads for a little while longer.”
“I realized today that while my husband has received hate mail from all across the country, I haven’t received one piece! Nasty comments in the public forum, public speculation, vilification by many but no hate mail! Each week I receive a few letters of love and support and good wishes from people, but I haven’t gotten a single piece of hate mail. THAT is a tender mercy. THAT is a blessing. Count your many blessings!”
Some days the only “blessing” I could see was that for some reason, I was still breathing. That’s ok if that’s all you can find to be grateful for.
3. As you’re enduring your fairy tale, keep walking. Keep pressing forward. Don’t quit.
Years ago, I read a story about a pioneer man who lost his wife crossing the plains, buried her and by that night had lost his infant son as well. He walked back to his wife’s grave, dug her up, buried the baby with her, then returned to the wagon train. He quit writing in his journal for awhile, but when he picked up again, he wrote only, “Still walking.”
“Like that pioneer man who quit writing in his journal for awhile during his adversities, I guess that is me. I haven’t had the time or energy or opportunity to write about my life lately. I haven’t been able to face what is now my life. And I’m not sure why it is my life. I know I shouldn’t ask why, but I am so alone and discouraged I literally can’t hold myself back. I am filled with grief for the many, many things I have lost. And I am so lonely. What did I ever do to deserve any of this besides love and trust my husband—which, I’m told that’s what you’re supposed to do in marriage. I feel so much grief I can’t express it. I hope I can get over it. I hope I can keep going. I hope. I hope. I hope. I guess I do hope, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t keep trying every day.”
4. Realize how you react to adversity is a critical factor in whether or not you arrive at your own “happily ever after.” It’s up to us to make of our life and experiences what we will.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “You need to know that you will experience your own adversity. None is exempt. You will learn for yourself what every heroine has learned: through overcoming challenges come growth and strength. It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
“Winston Churchill said ‘to every man [and woman] there comes…that special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to them…what a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.’ It hit me as I read that that I have an opportunity to let this time be my finest hour. It is a critical time. As daunting as it seems, I MUST make this time my finest hour. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have faith. I know there will be one.”
“It’s taking all of my faith and trust to hope the kids and I don’t end up homeless, on the street, living in a cardboard box. My heart ached all day yesterday and I didn’t know if it’s because my heart is broken or because I was having a heart attack! I’m being dealt so many injustices and there will never be any restitution to me for any of it. I guess I am the one who will just have to let go of it, forgive and go on. I have only one goal: to not hate. Ok, I have two goals: to be cheerful, happy and optimistic again somehow.”
Be of good courage. One day I came across the theme for my new life: “If you can’t jump over life’s hurdles, LIMBO under them!”
It’s all in what you choose to do with it. You can let your trials “ruin” your lives and become an excuse for every future challenge or failure you’ll have; or you can hang in there, get through them, and figure out how to use them for your good, to make you better, and you can learn to smile in spite of them.
5. Remember that your situation never ends up as bed, in the end, as you imagine it’s going to. Things are never quite as bad as they seem. Have patience until things settle. (That was true even for me!)
Jeffrey Holland, president of Brigham Young University when I attended college encouraged: “Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. On those days when we have special need… remember there is help. There IS happiness. There really IS light at the end of the tunnel. Hold on. Keep trying. Things will improve…Even if you cannot always see that silver lining on your clouds, God can.“
“It is another day of not being able to comprehend how I’ll make it through another day, but I have no choice. I have to try. Each time I think I am healing, or that maybe we can make it, or that everything will be ok, each time I start to feel even a tiny shade of peace or confidence, something HUGE happens to suck me right back in to the black hole I have been trying to crawl out of since March 18. I don’t believe God caused this calamity to come upon us, my husband did; but it doesn’t mean I don’t get to experience it, it means only that the Lord knew I was strong enough to handle this. It means God knows we can survive it if we choose to. It also means that we have to wade through the most incredible garbage I have ever seen! And I also have to hope it means things will, someday, get better.”
6. Recognize your challenges are opportunities for growth.
“I couldn’t help but laugh at the encouragement from my church leaders regarding tribulation at our recent conference. They always mention economic challenge OR job challenge OR family challenge OR marital challenge OR disappointment OR broken heart, etc…but they haven’t mentioned all of them together at the same time, and THAT is me! (If you add hatred and persecution from neighbors, friends, and many church members; orphaned and without parents; prison, crimes, divorce and everything else with it too!) HOW did I get so blessed? I have been given so many unimaginable opportunities for growth and all at the same time. Lucky me. I hope I can do it.”
You can do it. I did. I’m living proof.
7. Have a sense of humor during the hard chapters of your fairy tale. I firmly believe a sense of humor helps you get through challenges.
“In church today the teacher asked us to think of our 5 most valuable material possessions. Hmmm. I don’t have any anymore! I had nothing to think of. That struck me so funny I laughed. I always thought ‘you can’t take it with you’ applied to death, but it applies to 41-year-old, alive me!
Another funny thing: Today my daughter told me I need to get married to a good man so I’m not alone. I told her I won’t marry again because I am an ‘old bag.’ She helpfully said, “Mom! Botox!” (No disagreement on her end that her mother is a disgusting and old ugly ‘bag’, just a helpful suggestion to me on how to overcome it! P.S. to My Daughter: No shelter, no food, no job, no everything also means Botox IS NOT an option!)”
8. Realize that no matter what develops in your life your dreams can still come true—you just might get to them differently than you expected.
“My high school son dreamed his entire life of playing hockey at the college level. But then our life happened, we moved to Utah, we are literally in the depths of poverty—short of the needed money for our expenses each month—and initially thought every dream had been taken from us. And then today my son was asked, as a high school student, if he had any interest in practicing with the BYU team. Does he? It’s amazing, this experience called life; how things work out for us, and how the Lord moves in mysterious ways and truly can make all things work together for our good. When our world ended, I thought every dream we’d ever had was gone too. Yet, because of my ex-husband’s crimes and the way things worked out for us, we ended up in Utah, right where we are, and my son is probably in a better position now to make his college hockey dream come true than he ever would have been living what we thought was our fairy tale life in Colorado. It proves once again that you can lose your entire life, be gifted a cesspool, and you can still grow flowers out of the manure someone else created for you. That is why you never quit, you never give up, you keep pressing forward, you keep doing what is right and living as excellently as you can, and eventually, you create out of your new life all of the good things you were aiming for in your old one. You arrive at the same happily ever after, you just end up taking a different path to get there.”
Long story short, we survived our losses, my divorce, our move to Utah and everything else which eventually led to a total lapse of sanity on my part resulting in me, on a whim late one Friday night, signing up online for a single’s site; which led me to me re-entering the singles scene!
I wish I could report associations with many handsome princes—and there were a few of those—but the reality consisted of a LOT more frogs! (No disrespect to any men intended.) But I eventually (in fact, a lot quicker than I expected) I found a prince! We married in 2011 and recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary.
9. Lastly, remember every single life lesson will be worth it.
My 2011 marriage was one of the greatest moments of my life. All I could think was, “This is absolutely perfect. It was worth everything I went through to get here.” I was actually grateful for everything that had happened to me. Not only because of what I learned, but because my experience, MY LOSS, looking back on it, actually freed me.
My unexpected life freed me to find and receive what I’d always wanted, what I’d always thought I had but really hadn’t had—a true happily ever after with a wonderful man. And not that every story has to end with a handsome prince; but mine did! And I’m so grateful.
“Life is a precious gift as precious a gift as ‘once upon a time.’ It’s our own true story of adventure, trial, opportunity for greatness, nobility, courage and love. But happily ever after doesn’t come without a price. Sandwiched between ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after is great adversity. In stories as in life, adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps develop a depth of character that comes no other way. Your own wondrous story has already begun. Your once upon a time is now.” (Dieter Uchtdorf)
If you remember nothing else from my remarks tonight, please remember this:
Happily ever after is not something found only in fairy tales. You can have it. It is available to you. I am living proof—of that and that by seeking to not just endure but triumph in adversity, our challenges can make us better than we would otherwise have been. So keep living, reading and writing your own story with faith and courage regardless of the plot developments, creating your own happily ever after, until the day that you really do experience this phrase again: ‘And they lived happily ever after.’”
“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” (Gilbert K. Chesterson)
Maybe I’m a know it all (or at least a woman who knows her own mind.) I admit, I have preconceived notions as to how I think things should be, how I think they should go and I confess, I’ve always had my own plans, goals and dreams I’m working toward. Maybe that’s why it’s such a struggle for me when things don’t go as planned. Hence, the “shock factor” of the unexpected life.
For example, I remember when my dad died unexpectedly in a plane crash when I was a teenager and I struggled to make sense of it. One thing I remember thinking over and over again was, “No, this can’t be. I love my dad. I was meant to have a dad—that’s why I was placed for adoption as an infant, because I was SUPPOSED to have a dad, that was the plan for ME.” Cut to 2009 when the Ponzi scheme was revealed to me. I had many issues with it, of course, but one was, “No, this can’t be. I’ve always been honest, I’ve always lived a life of integrity, I can’t be involved to whatever degree, to any degree, in something like this that SOMEONE ELSE has done!” But you don’t always have control over the situations you find yourself in, courtesy of life, do you? The only thing you can control is your reaction to those challenges and what you choose to do with them.
I say: do something good with them. I can’t think of anything worse than being handed something miserable and choosing to let it destroy you for the rest of your life. Create a triumph out of a tragedy. Pick yourself up and carry on. Look for the good you’ve got. And never give up on life, or being happy, through everything you’re required to endure. Endure to the end. Oh, yes, and while you’re at it—strive to be open to all of the “new” opportunities that come with it all.
For example, when I saw Notre Dame in Paris for the first time, I was unexpectedly overwhelmed. I went into it thinking it was just something to see because of its history. I expected I’d visit it, enjoy it, cross it off my list of things to see while in Paris and move on to the next sight. I didn’t expect to FEEL what I felt there. To walk inside and be literally overwhelmed by its majesty. To be so touched by the experience of it. To sit, to cry from the beauty of it all, and to soak it all in until my friend finally felt it was time for us to go!
I remember my first trip to London. My #1 goal was to see the Tower of London and the crown jewels; my friend’s #1 goal was to see Westminster Abbey. So we saw both, and guess what? The thing I most enjoyed from that trip ended up being Westminster Abbey, while my friend was unexpectedly impressed by, you guessed it, the Tower of London. By remaining open to the unexpected, we saw things we’d otherwise perhaps have missed. We might have missed our most cherished experiences; remaining “open” to new adventures, or things we didn’t expect, greatly enriched our travel experiences.
Apply that to the unexpected life and I guess that’s why I dared trust a man again, fall in love and remarry. Why I keep singing (occasionally!) Why I ALMOST auditioned for a show. Why I’ve tagged along to autograph signings when invited. Why I give speeches. Why I’ve dared expose myself to the potential for anything in a media interview. And even, to some degree, why I blog about all of the unexpected adventures.
Every life experience has something to distinguish it by, something to learn from or can be a new adventure in some way if you choose to allow it to be. I think it depends on you.
“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other.” (Norma Shearer)