Living Happily Ever After


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The Conditions for Beauty

“No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.” (Oscar Wilde)
My mom emphasized true beauty, what she called “inner beauty,” and taught me it’s what is on the inside of you that counts. I believed her. And  then my unexpected life hit.
Although it happened five years ago and much of it has become a blur, I’ll never forget what a scary and dark time it was. Overwhelming. All I can say is that I did the best I could given the circumstances. I probably made some mistakes. But one thing I stand by was my intentional refusal to indulge in the vicious hatred and negativity that came my way. (I’d like to say it was a soul perfection that allowed me to take the high road. But the truth is probably closer to the fact that I was so afraid if I allowed myself to indulge in ANY hatred or anger toward anyone who treated me unjustly or betrayed me during those dark days, I might have never been able to rise above it.)
So time passed, I recovered, and I’m still living. I moved on, minus most of the trappings (and some of the friends) who chose to not remain with me. And I’ve become o.k. with all of it. And then earlier this month I had an encounter that reinforced to me, again, that I made the right choice.

One of my biggest losses from my previous spouse’s crimes and Ponzi scheme was the loss of a few friends I’d know even longer than my ex. We weren’t just friends, we were like family. They were some of my heroes–and the first phone call I made when I found out I was married to a criminal and he’d destroyed not just our family, but countless other lives. However in the waning months of my ex-husband’s crimes, their relatives had invested money with him. And he had taken it. So at my greatest time of need (and in all of the years since), they couldn’t be there for me due to the depth of destruction.

And then earlier this month, I unexpectedly ran into one of them. That friend I once knew so well was a literal stranger. In fact, I almost didn’t recognize her. Our encounter was so brief but I was shocked. She looked so different to me. Maybe I just caught her on a bad day…or maybe my mom was right: inner beauty is the only kind of beauty that matters.

It isn’t easy to develop and it certainly isn’t easy to maintain–to rise above the destructive choices of others and the events of life that can be so difficult. But it’s so worth it.

Because in the end, and despite our losses (or perhaps because of them), we will each be truly beautiful.

The Speech Continued: ‘R’ is for Rejuvenate

R: Rejuvenate Daily

Get the daily inspiration you need to carry on and keep going.

For me, that means prayer and scripture study. Meditation. Do what YOU need to do to rejuvenate yourself every day.

Don’t forget an important source of rejuvenation: friends and family. Rely on friends and family to remind you that you CAN do it. I’m grateful for the many friends who told I could do it. I could survive. I could rebuild and carry on and someday would be happy again.

They were right.

“True friends stab you in the front.” (Oscar Wilde)

And I’m grateful to friends who had the courage to do that, too.

A Different Kind of Richness: Step 5 Continued

“Be yourself. Above all, let who you are, what you are, what you believe, shine through…” (John Jakes)

So later, when federal agents told me they were coming to inventory my possessions for seizure, unexpectedly came the thought into my mind, “You should hide some of your jewelry, no one will every know, and then you’ll have something to sell to help feed your children and keep them alive.” I was shocked! I’d been honest my entire life—my parents had taught me not to eat even a grape from the bunch at the grocery store without paying for it first; at great inconvenience I’d driven back to stores that had given me a few incorrect cents of change, and now I’d had the thought to, basically, steal something? (Granted, they HAD been MY things, not to mention the stakes were very high for me personally, but I never anticipated ever having such a thought.)

However, within moments I decided, “I am not going to change who I am just because someone else was never who they professed to be!” So I didn’t hide anything, I even reminded the investigators of my jewelry when they came to my home.

The bad  news? Yes, my jewelry was seized and I lost an asset I could have sold and used to begin a new life with. The good news? I remained true to myself and who I’d always been. And it’s always worth it to remain true to yourself, on every level and in every way. Always. No matter what happens.

And when you do that, you’ll survive; you’ll be ok. You may not have all the jewelry you wish you had, but you’ll be ok! You’ll have a different kind of “richness” in your life that no one can seize from you.

“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.” (Oscar Wilde)

An Opportunity

Life, regardless of the unexpected circumstances you find yourself in, is a constant reminder of one important principle: hang in there. And nowhere am I reminded of this more than in my life as “my dad’s wife,” aka. stepmother, to mostly grown children. So for every woman married to a man who has children from another mother, this post’s for you.

Hang in there.

Acknowledge that, according to experts and professionals, the role of “stepmother” is the most difficult of all positions in life. So whether everything related to your opportunity (and it is exactly that, an opportunity) is a dream come true, whether it’s a work in progress, or whether it’s a situation in need of MUCH work and progress, hang in there! Because in this as in everything else in life, if you hang in there long enough and do everything you can to triumph, I know you eventually will. You’ll also learn important things and help others learn things along the way, too!

Case in point: the other day, my husband and I were reading a version of the story of Snow White to our youngest when, at the story’s completion, my husband looked at me and said, “Wow, I never knew that!”

“Never knew what?” I asked.

“That the wicked queen who hated Snow White and tried to kill her had been married to Snow White’s dad…” my husband began, but didn’t quite dare finish. “And…was…her…stepmother.”

Unfortunately, some of us haven’t had the luxury of remaining so blissfully ignorant. Not only was I raised on fairy tales and consider myself somewhat expert in their storylines, I am reminded of the whole stepmother thing at even the most unexpected times. Like last month.

My husband’s birthday was approaching so I texted his children: “You are all invited to dinner to celebrate your dad’s birthday. He will be thrilled to see you. Please let me know if you can come so I can plan the food,” and I listed the date and time. Within seconds, I got a response from our married son, “Yes! We will be there!”

I didn’t hear back from two of the children, which I’ve learned is typical; one never responds, but always attends and is cheerful and happy to be there, and the other usually responds at some point prior to the event, hasn’t missed a special dinner yet and is friendly and talkative while there. I’m grateful for their willingness to participate in family things.

The final response, from another, came a minute or two later: “Who is this???”

Lets just say that was the kindest and most respectful of the texts that followed from that particular child, and ALL the result of a simple invitation to dinner and dessert! It’s not like I was texting to hire a hit man (I mean, woodsman!) or to express a willingness to provide a poison comb or apple—just a simple home-cooked meal I’ve been told is in short supply in the kid’s life and I was happy to provide.

Such is the life of “a dad’s wife.” Franklin D. Roosevelt had some great advice for that position:  ”When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt) That’s my plan, and I recommend it—hanging on—to everyone in any position or unexpected life situation.

Because maybe someday the cuisine you prepare will be so delicious and so memorable that everyone who partakes of it will at least remember who prepared it, cooked it, served it, hosted it, paid for it, cleaned up after it, and never asked for anything in return. And if not, if that day never comes, imagine the amazing culinary talents you’ll have developed thanks to your opportunity. And that’s exactly what it is. An opportunity—to hang in there AND to forgive. Hmmm…sounds a lot like life itself.

“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” (Oscar Wilde)

A Move, A Proof

Two words describe the most recent developments at our house: Moving. Again. (Or should I more accurately describe it as U-Haul? Or you, haul? Sometimes I think I ought to go into business for myself.) Here’s the update.

We gave it a good run (two months.) However, in that time my husband’s daughter made some good choices (again)  and some seriously poor choices (again)…so she moved in with her mother. I’d assumed  we’d let her experience the consequences of her choices and try it again, but before I even knew there was a plan, the new plan was implemented and she’d made arrangements to live somewhere else. Had I had any say in the matter, had it been up to me, I would have insisted my husband’s daughter stay with us; I would have allowed her to experience the consequences of her choices and we would have given things another shot. But, I’m not in charge; I’m just my husband’s wife.

From my perspective, that’s one thing that makes divorce and the stepparent role so difficult: watching kids you like and care about make choice after choice that complicate their lives and put their futures at risk; you’re ready and willing as their friend to assist their parent in helping them learn self-control, honesty, personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, family values and other important lessons you know they’re going to need to be successful adults—and not only are they not interested in those things, they have another option, another parent, another “culture,” an entirely different and opposite set of values and lifestyle they can turn to. On top of that, the additional challenge (and biggest concern from my perspective) is the effect the poor choices and lives the children of one family choose to lead can have on the children of the other family.

Honestly, sometimes that aspect of remarriage is almost overwhelming. But one unexpected part the situation has reminded me of again, however, is that everything has an upside. You just have to look for it and find it.

Here’s one. When I divorced and my children’s father went to prison to serve his 12 year sentence, I thought that was a hard and terrible thing for my children to experience. And it has been, to some degree, at least it started out that way, but it has also been a blessing too. For instance, my children don’t have to deal with two parents leading two different lives, fear of showing “loyalty” to one versus the other, the disruption in routine of moving between different parents and different rules, etc…It has also turned out to be good for me in an unexpected way—in my ability to parent my children as I see fit. While I believe my ex-husband would support my role, my philosophy and my efforts in raising our children were he near us, the “upside” or bright side to their father’s incarceration is that his absence guarantees it.

It gives my children no other option. I’m it. If they don’t like my rules, parenting philosophies or what I’m raising them to be, if they make a wrong choice, they still have to stay with me, experience the consequences of their choices and learn from their mistakes. There’s nowhere else for them to go. There’s no one they can run to, no one who will pity them or enable them to continue their wrong choices and inappropriate behaviors. And given the many divorce situations I’ve been exposed to since the demise of my original family, I now see that prison has actually been a blessing for my children and their growth and learning.

Who EVER would have thought? Certainly not me! When I think back to that dark day in 2009 when my world crumbled in one moment, one conversation, and I thought prison was the most incomprehensible thing in my world, I never saw it coming, I didn’t see an upside, if you will. But it is what it is: ”What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise.” (Oscar Wilde)

It reminds me again that if you’ve got a challenge, even a very bitter one; if you’re enduring your worst nightmare, even something so terrible you never could have imagined it would ever be your nightmare; hang in there! And I know that in time (if you can’t already) you’ll see a bright side. You’ll be able to recognize something good that came out of it, even if it’s a very minuscule good thing.  Eventually you’ll see a blessing in even the worst situations. That’s the unexpected life. And I’ll say it again: I’m living proof.

“A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.” (Jean Chretien)

Do You Think It Might Be The Wedding Ring?

“By persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation.” (Oscar Wilde)I’m thinking it might be an attractive combination. Single man, fit, hair long enough to make him look like a liberal college professor…and the women are beginning to like it! The other day #5 came home to tell me how nice women have been to him, especially lately, and that he thinks it might be the longer hair.

I asked, “Do you think it might be the wedding ring?”

He explained, “No, it was starting to happen a little before that, I think it must be the hair!”

Thank goodness he is married again, I guess, so he won’t be SUCH a temptation. He’s off the market, as am I. I have exited the single phase of life. For the second time. I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go. It was devastating to become single after 20 years of marriage and to re-enter the singles scene in my 40s, following an unexpected divorce and the trauma of a VERY unexpected life; the single life sure took some getting used to. In fact, I couldn’t imagine ever getting used to it. But I did.

In the beginning, I remember feeling so humiliated. I seriously thought everyone could tell, just by looking at me, what a loser (ie. single, a.k.a. divorced) woman I was. I was sure everyone thought I had terrible judgement, lacked intelligence, was impossible to live with or did any myriad of negative things that made someone not want to be with me and that caused my divorce.

Divorce was so contrary to anything I’d ever imagined for myself, I could hardly imagine, truly, ever being satisfied with myself and my status, but eventually I was. I wasn’t humiliated. I didn’t feel like a loser. I was just me. Andrea Merriman. Divorced single mother of four. I wasn’t embarrassed by the word “divorce” or to say it. It was my unexpected new “normal.”

Then I remarried.

And believe it or not, THAT has taken some getting used to. Again! For #5 and for me.

I’m calling them…second marriage moments. And the first one hit on the drive home from the honeymoon. Lets just say MOST of them have made me laugh:)

“Second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.”

Why Wait?

“My kids always perceived the bathroom as a place where you wait it out until all the groceries are unloaded from the car.” (Erma Bombeck)

Or in the case of my younger sister, the bathroom is where you wait it out until all of the dinner dishes are done! (I’m sure I’ll hear from her on this one. But she KNOWS what I’m talking about:)

As an adult, since my engagement to #5, I’ve also been “waiting it out,” but unfortunately, couldn’t hide in a bathroom; I had to keep living my life.

What was I waiting for?

Marriage. To get married, to be exact. Actually, it’s THE reason for my “long” engagement and wait. Yes, the time to thoroughly get to know one another, to help our children prepare for the life change and blending of families has been very helpful. But the main reason for the wait is that I need authorization to marry where I wanted to marry.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe in marriage (and family) and in beginning all of that by marrying in a L.D.S. temple. A temple is the place we believe covenants, and the ties that bind, are made not for just this life but for eternity.

To qualify for the privilege of going to a temple to worship, marry or participate in other ordinances you must have a temple recommend (a paper permit.) This is required not because what takes place in a temple is secret (it’s not secret), but because the ordinances performed therein are so sacred. To receive a temple recommend, you must live certain standards and then obtain the recommend/permit from your local clergy.

In a first marriage, you only need a temple recommend to be married and sealed to your chosen spouse. In the case of divorce, additional authorization beyond a temple recommend is required to remarry in a temple. Men and women sealed to previous spouses in a L.D.S. temple must obtain special permission to be sealed to a new husband or wife in a temple. The additional authorization is known as a cancellation or clearance of your previous sealing and it is in letter form. As both #5 and I had been married and sealed in a temple to our previous spouses, both of us needed additional authorization to remarry in a temple. And that letter of authorization to do so comes directly from The First Presidency of The Church. They are the only men who grant that permission.

It is a process that takes time. In fact, you never know how long it all can take to gather the required information, complete the interviews necessary and do everything else that is part of obtaining a cancellation or clearance to remarry in a temple. I think for that reason, most L.D.S. couples who remarry choose to marry civilly (not in a L.D.S. temple) initially, and then go to a temple approximately one year after their civil wedding to be sealed to one another.

But that’s not me.

For a variety of reasons, I guess.

My parents raised me to live a life that would allow me to marry in a temple, and I had always chosen to live that way. I hadn’t changed, I didn’t change the way I lived or what I believed in, just because my former spouse made the choices he did. Or because I was divorced or living an unexpected life. A temple marriage was still my ideal. For me, it was the place to marry–my only choice.

I was also raising my children to marry in a temple. I needed to remarry in the temple not just for me, but also as an example to them (especially given the “example” the other Merriman parent had set.)

We began the application process that would allow us to marry in a L.D.S. temple within weeks after we got engaged. We just never realized how long it would take.

“If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.” (Oscar Wilde)


Raise Your Hand If You’ve Ever Taken Your Mother To A Single’s Dance

“To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect.” (Oscar Wilde)

I guess I’m becoming more modern; I’m learning to expect the unexpected. And certainly parts of  IT, a single’s dance with a mom, were unexpected. After all, if you’d asked me even one year ago what the odds would be of me going to a singles dance, and with a MOTHER, I would have laughed in your face and guessed a billion to one! But then again, I would have laughed and denied that any part of my entire unexpected life would have been mine 20 months ago.

Imagine this (my) scenario: married 20 years, becoming unexpectedly single, moving to a new state to begin a new life, finding your biological mother via Facebook (THAT is a “friend” request you never forget!), discovering you live 20 minutes from each other, and that she is single, as well, after being married 35 years? And you both like to dance…

She is a beautiful, “game for anything” sort of gal with no shortage of men who want to spend time with her. In fact, handsome fifty-year-olds introduce themselves to her and ask her out in the grocery store. (We date men approximately the same age! How’s that for funny?) But as she lives alone in the mountains she needed a purely social experience, with no possibility of falling in love, an opportunity to simply dance, so the singles dance was a no brainer. After all, “Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we should dance.”

So we did.

One part of the night was expected. We walked though the door to the dance and…she couldn’t breathe. She was shocked to be there; that a single’s dance was now her life. She said, “Andrea, what am I doing here? What was I thinking? I can’t believe this is me and my life.” (Where have we heard that before? She said almost the exact words I uttered when I went to my first singles dance a little over one year ago!) So I wasn’t surprised at her reaction. In fact, I expected it.

As she is a stunningly attractive and energetic woman who looks and acts much younger than her actual age, I expected the men at the dance to notice her, and they didn’t let me down! After the first one got his courage up to ask her to dance, it was a domino effect and actually quite comical to see three men, at the exact same time, make a beeline for her. It happened several times throughout the night.

Once they got her on the dance floor, they didn’t want to let her go. They’d dance with her for as long as they possibly could until someone cut in (I didn’t know men still did that these days!) or I got her away to meet someone new. To paraphrase an old song (that they probably played at the singles dance along with many other “oldies”), “Oh, what a night!”

But here is what I admired most about her and that night.

You meet a lot of interesting people at dances like that. As Bachelor #1 famously said, “There are a lot of broken hearts” at a singles dance. And sometimes, superficially, it’s evident why. Not every man that asks you to dance, and sometimes on some nights at some dances not ANY man who asks you to dance is your “dream man.” But you’d never have known it from watching her that night.

She was clearly the most beautiful woman at the dance, yet she was also the most gracious to every single man she met. Every single dance partner got the same big smile, friendly effort and fun dance partner, regardless of their age, race, attractiveness or dancing ability. No wonder the men loved her!

I couldn’t help but notice another attractive woman there that night as she danced. At one point, the woman was with a man that clearly didn’t appeal to her, she saw several others of a similar type heading her way as well, and she turned over her shoulder and called to her friends, “Does anyone want to take my place? I’m getting tired!” No one took her up on her offer. She didn’t appear to be interested in dancing or in her dance partners: she didn’t look at the men she danced with, she didn’t speak to them (didn’t even greet them) and it appeared she couldn’t wait to be free of them.

It was a great lesson for me. My parents taught me to never say no to a boy who asked me to dance, and to be kind to them while I danced with them. I hope I always lived up to their expectations (I know I did except for maybe one time, in the 80s, which I still feel a little bad about.) Watching my birth mom dance with anyone and everyone that night reminded me, again, of the importance of being gracious to everyone you meet.

It reminded me of a very important principle of life, even the unexpected one. My parents raised me to know that  life isn’t all about me, it’s about other people, too. Having charity toward others, loving and serving others, and being a light in the world. And what a gift you give to others, to the world, if everyone you meet walks away from their experience with you better than they were before they met you–uplifted, inspired, happy, feeling better about themselves or their life for having rubbed shoulders, or danced, with you.

“Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten.  And seeing them… he cried, ‘Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?’  God said, ‘I did do something.  I made you.’” (Author Unknown)

Then It Was Gone

“Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious.” (Oscar Wilde)

I heard from Bachelor #5 again.

He emailed me, thanked me for going to dinner, told me I was a trooper for living through what I’d gone through and remaining positive and seeking to create a happy life… and then he continued with his busy life, the holidays, and travel.

He was organized, planned his life and was sort of on a “schedule.” He kept in touch via email about once a week. He texted me about once a week. He asked me out once a week, depending on his travel and schedule, and as busy as we both were, I’m amazed I was usually available the nights he asked me out. He took me to dinners, a dance class, musicals, plays–always fun and unique things, especially compared to most of the men I dated.

I met his friends and some of his children. He always had a story to tell about something, and was always very nice. He was also my divorce expert: he had been divorced three years longer than me and had lived through everything I was facing. He was very thoughtful to check in with me after my “firsts” (first Christmas, etc…) to see how things went.

But that’s as far as my analysis of Bachelor #5 went. I had pre-determined he was too old for me; I certainly didn’t think he “liked” me! He was just a nice, older bearded man that I assumed felt bad for me, a newly single mom.

Then one night he picked me up for a date. I looked over at him as he was backing out of the driveway talking to me and I was struck by how different he looked. I felt like I was looking at a stranger! I couldn’t figure out what was causing my confusion. I thought I knew him, but all of a sudden I felt like I didn’t.

And then it hit me. He had shaved, the beard was gone.

I was stunned by how young he looked and how nice looking I thought he was. It was like I had never seen him before. (And I probably hadn’t. With the gray beard, I had never really looked–had never let myself look.)

“And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.” (The Bible)