Living Happily Ever After


Blog Articles

A Good Word

I had the opportunity to attend a speech by Dan Clark at BYU this week. He talked about adversity.

Dan Clark lived through some. He wanted to be a professional athlete and attended college on a football scholarship. He was projected as a number one draft choice for the NFL Oakland Raiders but cracked his 7th vertebra during a tackling drill which ended his football career. Doctors projected a 10% chance of recovery, at best, but after several years he did recover and started speaking to high schools about his recovery. He spoke for Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, has written 21 books, has spoken to thousands of people around the world and has accomplished so much in the years following his “adversity”

Every life will have its share of adversity: affliction, bad break, bummer, burden, calamity, can of worms, catastrophe, challenge, crisis, crunch, difficulty, disaster, distress, downer, drag, evil eye, hard knock, hard time, hardship, hurting, ill fortune, jam, jinx, kiss of death, misery, misfortune, mishap, on the skids, pain in the neck, poison, problem, reverse, sorrow, suffering, the worst, tough luck, tragedy,  trial, trouble (or whatever you want to call it.)

But I’ve come to learn for myself it has a purpose.

“Adversity introduces us to ourselves,” Dan said. So true! You become acquainted with a lot of things during adversity–your true self is one of them. And I believe that if you choose to handle your adversity correctly and make the choice to overcome it, it will be a worthwhile introduction. Because I’ve seen it for myself and have seen it in others, as well, that “you can make setbacks, comebacks.”

“Comeback is a good word, man.” (Mickey Rourke)


The New Feel of Darkness

“I wondered vaguely if this was when it would end, whether I would pull up tonight’s darkness like a quilt and be dead and at peace evermore.” (William Manchester)

When I was thrust into my unexpected life two years ago, it felt dark and very overwhelming. I confess, I probably had a moment or two where I could absolutely relate to William Manchester. Several nights I went outside in the backyard of my Colorado home to be alone, mourn my losses, cry, pray, and to try to figure out a plan: as in, how was I going to feed and shelter four children? By myself? And how was I going to not just start over, but start over “from a hole?”

Although, “There’s nothing like a nighttime stroll to give you ideas,” (Mad-Eye Moody, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 2000), I was short on ideas and options back then! But at least I knew, “When the darkness comes, keep an eye on the light…no matter how far away it seems.” (Jan Berry) I’d been raised to believe in and have faith that “For every dark night, there’s a brighter day.” (Tupac Shakur) And it’s true. I know it now, just as I knew it then, as hard as it was to always believe it.

So I didn’t succumb to the night’s darkness. Despite the black hole that was my new world, I didn’t quit. I may have ended every day in tears by crying myself into a fitful sleep (what little I slept), and I woke up and cried when I opened my eyes to my new reality and realized it wasn’t a bad dream but my new life (THAT is something–when your reality is worse than a nightmare! LOL), but I carried on as best I could.

Last night, I was out in the backyard of my Utah home. It was late, close to 11 p.m., but I wasn’t alone or mourning anything; I was planting a garden with #5!

With our busy work and family schedules, that was the time we had available to do it–so I kept the dirt moist with water and held the camping lantern so we could see, and #5 dug the holes, placed the plants in the earth, and covered them with soil. We talked, laughed, worked side by side and enjoyed one another. And when we finished, #5 went to put the tools and equipment away. I was left, alone, in the late night blackness of a summer night.

It has been awhile since I’ve thought about the dark summer nights alone in my Colorado yard, but brief memories of that time came unbidden. I indulged in them for just a moment, wondering if I’ll ever experience dark summer nights alone without remembering that traumatic time in 2009 but also marveling at the difference time, and light, can make.

“I guess darkness serves a purpose: to show us that there is redemption through chaos. I believe in that.” (Brendan Fraser) So do I. Because I’m living proof. Out of darkness and chaos came redemption…in the form of a very unexpected life. Time and again I’ve seen it happen—in this century, in previous ones, to every person, everywhere, regardless of the challenge or struggle.

There is ALWAYS light, and life, at the end of the tunnel, your tunnel, whatever that challenge may be.

That’s life. And since that’s life, while we’re here, we ought to experience it and remember that, ”Only the person who has experienced light and darkness, war and peace, rise and fall, only that person has truly experienced life.” (Stefan Zweig)

And if you’ve never planted a garden late at night by the light of a lantern, I recommend you experience that too.

“See you in the darkness.” (Gary Gilmore)

The Bright Side of My Divorce

“Always look on the bright side of life.” (Monty Python)

When I divorced, initially, I thought my situation was more difficult than a “typical” divorce because my former spouse is in prison. His incarcerated status left me completely alone to raise and support our children. There is no child support; no parenting time with the other parent; and while I wouldn’t wish the prison experience on anyone (although the choices my former spouse made certainly warrant prison time) as time has gone on, I’ve been able to look on the bright side. 

“The habit of looking on the bright side of every event is worth more than a thousand pounds a year.” (Samuel Johnson)

The bright side? Of being left alone, the sole source of support for four children, while the former spouse serves over 12 years in prison? Some might wonder, “What bright side?”

Here it is: I am completely alone to raise and support our children. There is no child support.

I have sole custody–medical custody, educational custody, social custody, religious custody, every type of custody I could think of when I wrote my divorce. And after observing many divorced couples have to co-parent their children, I’ve realized being left completely alone is much simpler and easier (in some ways, for me) than what some divorced couples experience.

I get to do what I feel is best for my children. I don’t have to get permission, approval or really even report to another parent. I don’t have to compromise. I don’t make plans and have them changed by the other parent. There is no other parent to get frustrated or mad at me. While some former spouses have to endure spending time with one another for the sake of their children, I don’t have to do that either. And now that we’re used to seeing “Unsensored Inmate Mail” stamped on the outside of envelopes that arrive occasionally in our mailbox, basically, I’m drama-free!

Yes, there is always a bright side–if you choose to find it.

The whole prison thing also meant #5 didn’t have to meet a former spouse face-to-face. Instead, he received a letter from Shawn Merriman, mailed from a Colorado jail, early in our engagement.

I don’t remember much of the letter other than that my former spouse tried to be kind and supportive in what he wrote–although how his attempts to do that came across in writing I still wonder about. It seemed a little “lecturing” to me as it told #5 he would be the one to do such-and-such with the Merriman children and it listed lots of things #5 would be doing with them. (It sort of read like Shawn Merriman was telling #5 all that he expected him to do as a step-parent.)

But #5 is not only a very nonjudgemental person and accepting of everyone, he is a good sport. He accepted the letter graciously…and we never really discussed it again. I don’t know what, if anything, he did with it. He just does his thing, in his own way, and my children are the better because of it. I credit the healing of my children to a great big miracle, to the passage of time and in large part, to #5.

“But when we have families, when we have children, this gives us a purpose for being, to protect our children, to avoid going to jail because if I’m in jail, who looks after my children, who’s there for my wife?” (Ernie Hudson)


Laugh Until You Cry

Last April I listened to encouragement from my church leaders regarding tribulation.  While it was comforting, some bizarre part of me found humor in it.

Here’s why.  They mentioned trials of economic challenge OR employment challenge OR family challenge OR marital challenge OR disappointment OR a broken heart.  But no one ever mentioned all of them together, all at the same time! And THAT was my life at that moment.

I had to laugh.

And when I added in the hardship of hatred, persecution from neighbors, betrayal of friends, being “orphaned” without parents during the most unexpected nightmare of my life, crimes committed by my spouse, a prison sentence my spouse was facing, divorce, no alimony or child support (probably, ever), returning to the work force full time, having to send a child to daycare (back then, I thought that was the end of the world–lol), and everything else I was dealing with at that time…I laughed again. Harder.

I laughed as I wondered how I, of all people, got so blessed? Why had I had been given so many unimagineable opportunities for growth–and ALL at the same time?  ”Lucky” me!

It made me laugh so hard I cried.

And as the tears rolled, for some reason I realized, again, that I could do it.  I knew I was going to survive, although a tiny part of me felt it would be much easier not to. Somehow, some way, I was going to make it through my nightmare.  For me. For my children. I had to.

I was going to make it because I believe in a higher power and have always believed everyone has a purpose on the earth; things to accomplish, other things to learn.  Last April I wondered if maybe THIS experience was one of the things I was here for.  ”…And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) I couldn’t allow myself to fail.

Like Esther in the Old Testament, who had to stand for something in very challenging and difficult times to save herself and her people, I had a work to do (on a much smaller scale.  I only had to save myself and my four children.) I firmly believe we each have a work to do and we can’t quit or give up.  ”After we have done all we could do…and withstood the evil that men have brought upon us, and we have been overwhelmed by their wrongs, it is still our duty to stand.  We cannot give up; we must not lie down.  Great causes are not won in a single generation.” (Joseph F. Smith)

I had to keep trying to laugh in spite of feeling like crying. I had to keep getting out of bed each day and facing what was ahead no matter how much I dreaded it. I had to keep forgiving. I had to keep rising above the challenges. I had to keep doing everything I could to pull myself out of the black hole I had been thrown into. And I had to help my children do the same.

It was my duty.  I couldn’t let myself down, and more importantly, I couldn’t let my children down and allow this experience to ruin their lives before they’d ever really had a chance to live.

So I laughed until I cried.  Sometimes I just cried.  And I kept trying to learn and allow myself to grow through the experience that had become my unexpected life.