How I Learned to Forgive Myself

Coulda Shoulda Woulda. If only. Wish I could go back.
Forgive myself…?
It sounds so easy. But it’s not. Especially if your mistake stares you in the face every day.

It’s the guy who goes home to an empty apartment every night because his drinking split the family up. Oh sure, she had the affair, but it was his drinking that drove her there. And he knows it. The single mom who wakes up to her four kids every morning. Each one from a different Mr. Mistake. Every time she writes on a form each different last name than hers, she cringes. Or like me, I come home from working all week only to pack up two kids who really don’t want to go to their dad’s for the weekend. And I really don’t want them to. They’re arguing with each other and letting me know very clearly that they don’t want to go. And there’s nothing I can do to protect them. I should’ve put stronger boundaries down early on with my husband. I didn’t love him with honesty. Instead I hid our problems because I was too proud to reach out for help. And it turned into a nightmare divorce. As if there is any other kind.

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Everything does NOT happen for a reason.

I was shocked by what I was hearing at the ladies’ lunch that day. These were fairly new friends. We were having lunch and getting to know each other better. I knew them to be solid Christians. But one of the gals began to explain that her husband of 15 years had been having an affair. He was divorcing her and moving in with the “other woman.” She started to cry as she talked about their two tweenage sons. Life was a mess. She proceeded to tell us that she was quitting her job that she loved. She’d be taking the alimony to go back to school in order to provide for herself and kids. And then, in an attempt to wrap up this ugly package with a beautiful bow, the words came out of her mouth.

“Well, I guess there’s a reason for everything.”

I bit my tongue. Oh, I have walked in those shoes! I have let that phrase rattle around in my head as I dealt with the fastball sting that life hurled into my glove. While I moved some food around on my plate, and I pondered my own struggle with “everything happens for a reason”, one of the other gals spoke up.

“Oh no…” she said.  “Don’t put this on God.”
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The Only Thing Scarier Than a Shattered Dream is a Blank Canvas

Even before the “until death do us part” in my early 20’s, I had begun to draw out the sketch of my life. All 20 year olds do it.

My drawing was done on a beautiful white canvas. I took my permanent black marker and drew out my life with the only man I ever loved. My sketch had a house and a few kids. I was careful not to get too fancy on the house. Not too set on how many kids and not too determined how many would be boys and how many would be girls.

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The Eclipse of My Noisy Broken Heart

I just couldn’t do it.
Some of my girlfriends were getting together for dinner and to hear a godly woman speak to them about something important. But that day, I just couldn’t do it. These wonderful women would ask how I was. And I’d answer, “Good!” because the truth was complicated and would evoke more conversation. We’d sit and listen to a woman talk about how she prayed her way out of a bad chapter. And I just couldn’t hear that one more time. Not that night. I just didn’t have it in me. So, instead, I sat in my car in a parking lot, trying to pull myself together before I went home to two hungry teenage boys.

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The Emergency Room (Marriage Counseling)
I had been in that Emergency Room (marriage counseling) so many times before. The big question remained the same. “Can this leg be saved?” Deep in the pit of my stomach, I was frantic. Oh please, oh please, oh please, not my leg. Please don’t cut it off! What will I do? What will my children do? Please save my leg!!

I sat on the Emergency Room table for many weeks, examining the wound. And the many wounds that came in the 20 years leading up to that moment – there in the Emergency Room…again.

“How does it make you feel after all these years together?” the ER doctor asked.
Angry. Hurt. Betrayed. Frustrated. Astounded. Unloved. What a waste.

The conversations were unproductive. Is the inevitable being prolonged? The wound was bad. This time, I wasn’t sure if the leg could be saved. I was bleeding all over the Emergency Room floor. My tears were falling just as fast as the blood. Me? Losing my leg? After all I’ve done to try to take care of it!  The ER doctor tried to stop the bleeding. But the wounds kept coming. So did the blood. And so did my tears.

Sure, I could have done things differently with my leg. I could have loved tougher. I could have loved more honestly. But I saw so many close by who’d been neglecting their leg. They’d done awful things. They’d said horrible things. I looked around and didn’t see them in the ER, bleeding all over the floor. They never would walk out an amputee. Their legs stayed in tact. In fact, their legs were beautiful and strong. I quietly whispered “Why me?” And I wished I wasn’t the type of person that asked, “Why me?”

Surgery (Divorce Court)
The news was grim. My leg would not be saved. Surgery date (divorce court) was set and re-scheduled and set again. In the end, I would wait one year. One year to contemplate what life would look like without my leg. It still hurt so bad. And I had so many questions. How was I going to live without a leg? I had never known life without that leg – not since I was 16. After surgery, what if I would have to leave everything I know, move home so my parents could take care of me until I could walk again?

Would I ever walk again? Would I ever run? Did I even want to?

How would my Diamonds in the rough function with their mom being an amputee? Why was their dad walking just fine? It was weird to see him in a new race. It hurt to see him run, on both legs, as if nothing was wounded. No damage. No surgery. The wind through his hair as he effortlessly glided through each lap with a smile on his face.

Surgery date arrived and they amputated my leg. It was the day that confirmed all hope was dead. As I lay there on the table, I contemplated all that I had just lost. How in the world did I end up here? I limped out with nothing to show except the two Diamonds in the rough and a big hole in my heart.

Recovery Room (post divorce)
Recovery (post divorce) was like coming out of a fog. Everything was new. Not in a fresh, spring-time exciting sort of way. But in a new pair of shoes and now I have a big blister sort of way. I felt so un-focused and all thumbs. My thoughts were awkward. My interactions were awkward. I was more than uncomfortable. I felt blind. I was unbalanced and clumsy. But I was moving.

The Crutch (God)
I had always had this Crutch (God). I thought I had leaned hard on it when I was in the Emergency Room. But this Crutch was now industrial strength. It became less of a habit and more desperation. And I leaned on it even heavier each day – every second. I talked to The Crutch – a lot. Sometimes I didn’t even know what I was saying. It seemed I just blah blah blahed my way through the conversations. Sometimes I was blubbering; sometimes I was complaining. But rarely was I saying “Thank you, dear Crutch. You are the most amazing Crutch. What would I do without you?”  But The Crutch didn’t seem to mind. It was still there every day, waiting for me when I got out of bed. I grabbed it first thing. I wasn’t even sure if The Crutch was helping. But, I just didn’t know what else to do. It still hurt…where there used to be a leg. But the acute pain was gone. It was now just a dull ache.

Being the only one to buff and polish the Diamonds in the rough every day, kept me moving – grabbing The Crutch each morning. I really believed in those two Diamonds. And that belief provided a great deal of blind endurance. But, oh they were a ton of work. The buffing and polishing was a great distraction while my amputated leg healed. The work helped keep me on course. I was wobbly, but I was on course.

Physical Therapy (embracing single life)
Physical Therapy (learning to embrace single life) was brutal. I dutifully showed up and worked my muscles. Dr. Therapy helped me dig deep trying to understand myself and my wounds that had caused the amputation. I started to learn to walk again. It was really hard sometimes. Some days I didn’t want to walk at all. But most days I did. I kept thinking about the two Diamonds. I wanted to get well. I was getting stronger and the surgery was becoming more distant in my rear view mirror.

My wound was closed. It was now a horribly bad scar, but it was healing. For the first time, I started to notice something different. There was another scar there, left where my leg used to be. Why hadn’t I seen this before?  It was the scar left from the stitches. There were a lot of them. The sheer number of stitches reminded me of what I had lost. But still, the amazing patchwork the stitches left on my wound. It was…well, it was really beautiful in a weird sort of way.

Physical Therapy eventually became less frequent. And I learned to walk better. A few years passed from the amputation. I finally started to feel better. I started to become stronger. More like myself. Like myself from a really long time ago self. I wondered if I might even try to jog. No, maybe not. I just lost a leg after all. Well, maybe yes. Oh boy. If I run again, I may get hurt again. What about the Diamonds? What if I end up back in surgery? What if I lose another leg?

Running Again (dating)
Oh, hello. I saw one of my friends who’d been running alone for a while. He’d had his leg amputated too – after 25 years of running with it. We talked and discussed our wounds. And our healing. He was much stronger than I. He inspired me. He walked steady and strong. And loved his new life. But it was obvious that he had put in the work. He’d paid the price and done his time in Physical Therapy. He walked with a limp, but the limp was starting to fade. He had the same Crutch. Hmm…just like me. I wanted to run like him. So I started to walk with him (dating).

We walked together for several years. Then we started to run together. We considered doing The Big Race. It was a marathon. Are we strong enough? What about the Diamonds? No, maybe a few more years of training. So we kept running together. We paid close attention to our individual training. But we tried to get our gates into rhythm.

The Big Race (remarriage)
We asked a lot of questions to The Crutch and about The Crutch. What if we entered The Big Race (remarriage)? Would we still lean hard on The Crutch…like we did before? We really didn’t want to run without The Crutch. Even if we entered The Big Race…especially if we entered The Big Race. My amputation had made me more fearful, and more careful. But there I was at the starting line. Full of courage and hope.

And The Big Race began.

Today (a new life)
Sometimes I think about the Surgery, Recovery Time and Physical Therapy.
But you know what I think about more than anything?

Those stitches.

The marks of The Great Doctor. The best surgeon around. The amputation scar is less visible now. In fact, when I look down, I don’t see the missing leg. I don’t see the scar.

I see the stitches. Each one the work of a loving, steady hand. The Great Doctor who wanted so badly for me to be more and more like me. Those stitches seemed to have healed more than an amputated leg.

I never thought I’d run again. To be honest, I didn’t want to run again.
But look at me! I’m in The Big Race. Who’d have thunk?
I’m strong and steady. My head is up. My stride is rhythmic.
There’s a wide smile on my freckled face and sometimes I feel like I’m 7 years old.
I’m strong enough to shout encouraging words to other amputees along the way.

My partner and I are running together. He has an excellent, strong pace and still inspires me. We both still use The Crutch every day. We’re more grateful for it. And now we share a name.

My scars didn’t make me stronger.  The stitches did.
I’m not coping anymore. I’m living.
And I really love this race.

Oh…and the diamonds?  They’re starting to shine.

Collateral Damage

“Has anything changed since you last saw the doctor?”
“Where do I begin?” I thought.
She handed me the clipboard and the standard form, which I proceeded to fill out. Last Name. First Name. Address.
Married, Single, Divorced, Widowed.
“No box for div-vidowed,”  I laughed as I thought of this term a friend of mine came up with, which so aptly described my situation.

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Dark Cloud Holiday

Some holidays are not happy or joyful. They highlight absence. Something is missing. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that Father’s Day would permanently be such a hard day for my sons. Their dad died when they were teenagers. They were 17 and 13. He’d taken his own life a week before Christmas. All along, I thought Christmas was going to forever be a Dark Cloud Holiday for them.

But it was Father’s Day.
Something is missing: A Father.

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“For I know the plans I have for you”? My problem with Jeremiah 29:11

It’s pretty much everywhere. Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ saith the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I walked through the Christian bookstore and it was all over the place: on plaques, key chains, bookmarks, greeting cards, clocks and Bible covers. I scoff: “My life doesn’t feel much like a plan…”  

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There Was No Kleenex in the Garden of Eden

“I’m so tired of being sad,” I said to Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright (yes, Prince lyrics)
“I bet you are,” the counselor said calmly.
We talked some more until my hour was up and I left. I went back the next week. And we did some more excavating into my soul. At some point in the conversation I again said, “I’m just so tired of being sad.” And he said, “I bet you are.”

Well aren’t you going to give me something to fix that? A pill? A book? A suggestion? An exercise? How about some homework? Nothing? …Maybe he didn’t understand me.

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