July 24th, 2013
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
– Louis L’Amour
Last year, I wrote about the difficult times in my life and hope for future, but never really explained why. I have written little since, because there is little I can write without a bit of explanation. It is partly because of the complexity of the task of telling my story without telling too much of others’ stories.
But it is important I tell this story. So often on the Internet, we hear only the brave face, the positive things that happen. This story involves tears and difficulty. And also we often see only anger and bitterness. This story involves joy and celebration.
One afternoon last year, I was working as usual (I work from home) when two sheriff deputies arrived on my doorstep. They gave me paperwork showing that my now ex-wife had filed for divorce, had asked them to serve me the paperwork, and that she had been given temporary possession of the house. I had 2 hours to gather up clothes and a little computer equipment (there was a list) and leave the house.
Thus began the most difficult time in my life. I went from reading a bedtime story and singing a bedtime song to my young boys every night to seeing them only a little, from living in the house my grandparents and dad had lived in to having no particular plan for where I’d sleep that night, from thinking I had a good idea of what the future held to not knowing when, if ever, I’d ever be back home. I worried about how the boys would fare (they have done well so far). And it was incomprehensible; I couldn’t find answers to “why?”.
In the time since, the divorce became final, I did return home, the boys spend more time with me, and a new normal emerged.
At the time, it seemed like a sudden, deep winter blizzard. I couldn’t see very far down the road, spring seemed far off, and I couldn’t see very well either forward or backward.
But I was determined to find positives in the situation. It started almost immediately; I had never been a person to talk about pain, but just a few hours after the divorce was filed, I knew I needed to talk to someone about it, and did. A week later, I shared about it in church. Amazing friends, locally and all over the world, provided support and encouragement. I had less total time with the boys than before the divorce, but more time with just the three of us, and we used it to play together at home, spend days in town, and even take a train trip to Santa Fe, where none of us had ever been before.
I realized how much I could forgive, and that my ex-wife probably did the best she could with the persistent legacy of difficult life events that happened to her long before she met me. I understood this, and was never angry, just sad, for everyone. I have always known nobody is perfect, myself included, but can be hard on myself when I’m less than perfect. I forgave myself, too, realizing that I did my best to help in the most unfamiliar of waters, and although I sometimes didn’t get it right, my conscience is clear because my heart was in the right place and I tried, very hard.
Most incredibly, I became a person with a deep sense of inner peace. I always tried to work hard to set life on a good path; I got good grades in school, am a good employee, and have a strong set of values. But where courts are involved, there’s a strong sense of powerlessness. At times, there was nothing I could do to make life better for my boys or for me. I finally had to let go of taking on responsibility for all that on my own shoulders. I simply knew that things would be OK, and in fact were OK, and that there is nothing in life that really deserves worries. That doesn’t mean worries are never present, but that mostly they are subdued, like a radio quietly playing in another room. When they aren’t, I can sit down at the piano, play my penny whistle, sing, walk to my creek, talk to friends, or any of so many things that let them melt away. I stopped searching for happiness and peace, and let those things find me.
In religious terms, my faith became not just an intellectual one, but also a spiritual one. An atheist friend asked me, “Just what does religion mean to you anyway?” My answer: “The certainty that spring always comes, for everyone that understands this.”
“People speak of misfortunes and sufferings,” remarked Pierre, “but if at this moment I were asked: ‘Would you rather be what you were before you were taken prisoner, or go through all this again?’ then for heaven’s sake let me again have captivity and horseflesh! We imagine that when we are thrown out of our usual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins. While there is life there is happiness. There is much, much before us.”
– Tolstoy, War and Peace
By Thanksgiving, I had much to be thankful for. Some of it under my nose waiting to be rediscovered after years of distraction, such as the glorious Kansas sunrises. Some things were new, such as roasting a turkey all by myself (or, rather, with Jacob and Oliver) for the first time, and having it come out absolutely perfectly. And some were just the things of everyday life: that I lived in my own house again, that I could walk out to the creek at the edge of my property whenever I wanted, that I could play piano, that the sounds of laughter and little running feet again could often be heard on my wood floors.
That’s not to say everything was easy; the courts sometimes made decisions sometimes I didn’t think were in the boys’ best interests, legal things dragged on and on, but in the end, peace endured. Happiness endured. I found myself thinking at Thanksgiving that it was the best Thanksgiving ever. Not much later, I considered myself happier than I’ve ever been. I was focusing on the daily gifts of life, marveling at the sunrises, looking forward to life’s next adventure, confident that it would be far better than the last.
And then, to my complete surprise, I found myself in a relationship again. On top of all the wonderful things happening in my life, I met Laura. I never could have imagined a friend so wonderful, a relationship so loving and joyful, something to treasure so deeply. I can look back at events and shake my head in amazement and wonder, that I found myself happier than I’d ever been, and then this wonderful relationship on top of that. I have been blessed to have the life I do, and feel almost embarrassingly lucky.
I share this story because friends that had been through divorce years ago shared their stories. They gave me hope. And if I didn’t share this story in this public way, I would be squandering an opportunity to find more positives from what happened. I hope that this helps, somehow, someone that is in pain know that there is beauty in the valley, and spring always comes, every single year.
And I share it because happiness like this can’t be repressed for long. Tolstoy was right. While there is life, there is happiness.
I’ll end with a story from last Thanksgiving. It was 6:10AM that weekend. I was still asleep, and heard this:
Jacob, yelling from his room: “Dad? Dad!”
Me, groggy: “Yes, Jacob?”
Jacob: “Can I go down and look at the Christmas tree?”
Me: “Sure, and you can turn it on too.”
At that point, I could have gone back to sleep. I was really short on sleep that morning, and Jacob would have been fine. But I gave him a couple of minutes, then I went downstairs too. He was curled up on the piano bench, looking at the tree. I quietly turned up the downstairs thermostat, got a chair, put it next to the piano bench, and sat down by the tree too. Jacob crawled over onto my lap and snuggled up for awhile. Neither of us said anything. Then:
“This is the best Thanksgiving ever.” And he gave me a big hug.
And he was right. Yes, he was RIGHT!
“That will be the beginning.” Spring comes!
July 4th, 2013
Jacob, Oliver, and I were driving back home, about an 8-hour drive. At one point I heard Jacob say from the back seat, “Oliver, you can’t have my book. It has a bookmark in it!”
Aside from the apparent anti-sharing properties of bookmarks, I sort of smiled at Jacob inventing a bookmark.
An hour later, I heard Oliver saying, “Jacob, you can’t have MY book. It has a bookmark too!”
And again I thought that sounded rather cute. The thought of traveling boys — and they did travel very well — bookmarking the books I brought for them was a nice one.
And then I realized: I hadn’t brought bookmarks. Or, as far as I could recall, bookmark-making material.
I really wanted to say, “Uhm, Jacob, just what did you make that bookmark from?” But I didn’t. I figured everyone would be happier not having to deal with that question.
June 2nd, 2013
I recently made a routine analysis of my kitchen. (Of course I make a routine analysis of my kitchen; don’t you?) In it, I discovered these items, still usable, but approaching that magic “throw it out” date:
- Baby carrots
- Green beans
So, I thought, what can I make that would use all of these? And I realized I had some shrimp in the freezer, so: a shrimp boil! I tossed it all, plus some various seasonings and a few other veggies, into the Dutch oven, and boiled.
Jacob and Oliver watched the activity with interest. Well, except for the potato-peeling part. For that, they went and played with their toy school buses. But the rest was good. They carefully observed me adding some spices, some vegetables, the shrimp, and watched it all simmer. Then it was time to eat. Excitement!
Of course, it did take a few minutes to boil, so Jacob got down his whiteboard while Oliver looked on.
They enjoyed learning how to peel the shell from the shrimp and devoured their food.
And another night recently, Jacob unexpectedly showed up in the kitchen at 10PM. He said he was thirsty, so I got him some water. He asked, “Dad, did you make ice cream?”
Earlier that day, I had prepared ice cream with Oliver, but it was a kind that had to be cooked (lemon with pureed strawberries and peaches) and it wasn’t cool enough to finish before their bedtime. I did let them help add the ice and salt to the ice cream freezer just before they went to bed.
So I told Jacob that yes, the ice cream was done.
He stood there, tiredly, considering, with this “oh he’ll never say yes to ice cream at 10PM” look on his face.
So I said, “would you like one bite right now?”
The look of delight on his face was amazing; a broad smile, a twinkle in his eyes, and a clap. So I got out the big bowl of ice cream and scooped up one big spoonful. He loved it. Then I said, “should we go look at the stars?”
I carried Jacob outside to the porch. We stood there, looking up. I used to do this with him periodically, but it had been about a year. So he was thrilled. It was a partially overcast night, but there were still some stars visible. He had no idea there were some stars missing. To him, it was amazing and wonderful and infinite. “Oh dad, there are way too many stars to count!”
He stayed there, arms around my neck, for a minute or two, then was ready to go back inside. I set him down, gave him a hug, said “Goodnight, Jacob.” And off he trotted, back upstairs, wearing a contented smile, and he fell asleep almost immediately.
All it takes to delight children is a bit a shrimp or some stars. And those things delight me, too.
April 17th, 2013
One of the benefits of working from home is that I have a great view of Kansas from my desk. While I work, I have seen sunrises, snowfall, birds, rain, ice, and all sorts of wildlife. I heard this verse of Home on the Range the other day, which reminded me of this:
“How often at night when the heavens are bright
With the light from the glittering stars
Have I stood here amazed and asked as I gazed
If their glory exceeds that of ours.”
One time, I asked Jacob if I should wake him up at night to see the stars. He said an excited yes! So when it was dark outside, I woke him up, carried him outside, and held him while he looked up. He said a long, breathy “Wooooow!” Then he went back to bed, curled up with his butterfly, and fell asleep smiling. Every so often, we repeat this little routine.
There are many opportunities in life to just stand somewhere and be amazed. You don’t have to be in Kansas. Children know this. The rest of us just have to notice.
March 27th, 2013
“God hates people that are…”
I heard a sentence that began that way on an interview with a protestor outside the Supreme Court yesterday. It is a deeply sad, and deeply wrong, statement.
If someone reads the Bible, and can come up with a word, any word, that completes that sentence, they’re doing it wrong. If someone thinks that there is anyone God hates, then I have this to say: No. Just… no.
I saw an article today, taking pages and pages to assess what the “Christian response to gay marriage” should be. I don’t need pages. It’s very simple. It’s this:
God is the God of love.
That is all. Where people are doing good, there is God. Where people care about each other, there is God. Where there are flowers blooming and trees shading and birds singing, there is God. Where people marvel in the beauty of the landscape or of another person, there is God. And where people love, there is God.
There is too much hate in the world already. Instead of adding more, let’s celebrate compassion, devotion, and peace. People that say that God is the God of hate look at the spring landscape and see only last year’s thistles.
One day soon, I hope to see everyone’s hearts set free. What a day of joy that will be! And I hope, too, that those that hate will find the peace of freed hearts, freed from hate and from fear.
March 14th, 2013
Today the outdoor temperatures got to nearly 75F/24C. The boys had this idea to go play with their “streams”.
Here’s one of the cleaner moments:
I had set up an old pipe and a hose, with the water coming slowly out of the pipe onto a little mound of dirt. They can then use their fingers to make channels in the dirt for the water to flow through. They’ve found that sticks can become bridges, making a hole in the earth makes a pond, and, oh yes, it’s quite muddy and a lot of fun.
Oliver at one point realized that he could splash the mud all around quite nicely.
And he wanted to make sure I took photos of his hands.
They could have played out there for hours, I’m sure. When it was time to clean up, they enjoyed seeing the mud come off their sandals, arms, hands, and feet.
It was a perfect use for the first really warm day of spring.
February 12th, 2013
“Dad, can I bring my mudball inside?” – Jacob
“Ooo, dad, I need a mudball too!” – Oliver
You’d have to have been there to see how excited Jacob was about his mudball. We had been out hiking down by the creek a day after a rain, and he, well, made a mudball and carried it around with him. I’m not used to finding mud all that exciting. To me, mud is something that my car can get stuck in, that my boots can drag into the house, that needs to be suppressed by a little gravel on top.
But to Jacob, he was holding a ball of excitement, of adventure, of discovery. And Oliver wanted in on the fun!
Jacob wasn’t thinking about consequences of bringing a mudball indoors, because he didn’t need to. He wasn’t visualizing the damage it could cause, the time of cleaning it up, or even the fact that a mudball doesn’t really stay a mudball permanently. He just wanted to carry his ball of excitement with him.
Being a parent means being a teacher, an example, and a leader. It is fine for Jacob to not think about the consequences of bringing a mudball into the house at age 6, but part of my duty as a parent is to make sure he thinks about consequences by the time he gets behind the wheel of a car. As we grow up, we are shown, taught, and prodded into thinking about consequences of our choices: getting good grades in school, thinking about the impression the clothes we wear to a job interview might leave, worrying about what people think about us when we talk in front of a group. We take on real responsibilities when we leave childhood, and the consequences of our actions become more significant.
But where’s the “off” switch? Shouldn’t there be a way for us to wonder about bringing the mudball indoors, too?
There was a time in our lives when we didn’t care one bit about whether we were wearing fashionable clothes, making a good impression, or doing things the “right” way. After being in the mindset of taking careful responsibility over life for so many years, it’s hard to re-discover that earlier time.
A colleague forwarded a little speech about Thanksgiving. It contained, “Those who live in thanksgiving daily have a way of opening their eyes and seeing the wonders and beauties of this world as though seeing them for the first time.”
This is something children know how to do, and we adults have often forgotten, because we are too busy worrying about dirty floors and stained curtains to see the potential for fun in mud.
I am convinced that, just as important as being responsible, is learning how to let go, to let our hearts feel peace and joy as if a child. We can’t open our eyes and see the wonders of this world if we’re too busy worrying about convincing someone else to vote for our preferred candidate, about saying things perfectly, about being right.
There’s beauty in that daily commute in a car or subway. Look around, and you might see kids with their noses pressed to the window, even if it’s mostly black tunnel outside. There’s wonder in that business flight, in the mud, in the doctor’s office waiting room.
When I see people using insults in a discussion thread on the Internet, I am saddened, because it means they have lost sight of the wonder of being able to communicate with and understand a person thousands of miles away, instantly, and are more worried about their position looking good, or are unable to see the beauty in a person that thinks differently.
I once had this conversation with Jacob in an airplane, probably surrounded by people impatiently waiting to turn on their electronic devices:
“Jacob, we are in the air!”
“Jacob, we’re flying!”
“Dad, I don’t know that I’ve ever been a butterfly before!”
I hope we can all find ways to be a butterfly more often.
February 4th, 2013
I’ll forgive you for not noticing the bus full of pirates at the Superbowl. Because, well, unless you saw my 6-year-old, you have a pretty good excuse for missing it. I’ll give you the Goerzen Superbowl play-by-play, just to make sure you’re caught up. It involved pirates, cops, tractors, cookies, a card game, and yes, even troubles with HDMI.
We were invited to a Superbowl party, and were going to bring a party snack. The boys love to help cook, and I try to give them choices. I started naming off potential snacks, starting with healthy options. They listened attentively, until I mentioned cookies.
“COOKIES! ***COOKIES!*** Yes, cookies!”
This reaction was, I must say, not exactly a surprise.
Then I asked them what KIND of cookies. Jacob immediately knew what he wanted, so of course Oliver took a minute to come up with something else. No matter; we could make two kinds of cookies. Jacob, of course, picked a kind of cookie that needs cherries, while Oliver picked one that needs chocolate chips. Thus they both had opportunities to “have a small taste” of ingredients while we prepared the batter.
And so make cookies we did. Plus a loaf of bread. Anyhow, once we got to the party, Jacob and Oliver saw a huge tub of Legos and were at it in a flash. One of Jacob’s friends was pretending everything was a tractor, but it wasn’t long before Jacob started in on his evening’s project: building the largest bus he could build.
He was pleased when he got 4 lego people into it. Even more happy when he got 10 into it. And by the time he figured out how to get 35 into it, he was quite proud of himself indeed. Oliver, meanwhile, in classic little brother fashion, tried to corner the market on surplus lego people. He appears to have the hardline negotiation skill down already, and perhaps is appreciating the value of artificial scarcity in the lego market <grin>
Eventually the bus seemed to hit the limits of engineering and joint strength, and Jacob gave up for a little while. He had a cookie and some carrots, commented on the exciting game of Uno going on, (“Who is the loudest?” “All of them!”), brought me some carrots, and periodically commented that “The ball team is ahead of the SF team. Sure is. They have more points!” (This from the “BAL” and “SF” text on the screen.)
And then he went back to playing. And here’s where the pirates come in.
Jacob’s new bus had a lego flag that he decided was a pirate flag. So the bus was a pirate bus. He built a platform out the back for them to use to “steal things”. So his pirate bus went around the lego area, stealing this from one pile, stealing that from another, until it got almost as long as his first bus.
Pretty soon, along came a police boat to chase the pirates. But the police boat appeared to suffer a humorous series of logistical failures and never could quite disrupt the pirates. But never mind that, for little brother Oliver was getting bored with the lego mountain he was building and decided it would be more fun if he would disrupt the pirates. An opinion that Jacob quite strongly disagreed with.
When it was time to go, Jacob tried to extract a promise from the party hosts to not let anyone take apart the pirate bus until next time we would be there.
Then this morning, Jacob and I had a discussion about pirates.
“Dad, are pirates real?”
“Yes, Jacob, they are.”
“Do they steal things?”
“Yes, but they are far away. There are no pirates here.”
“Are there pirates in Kansas?”
“No. There are some pirates in Africa though.”
“Oh. What state is Africa in?”
“Africa is so far away that it isn’t even in a state. You’d have to take a boat or a plane to get there.”
“Or a train!”
“Nope, a train couldn’t get across the ocean. It’s too wide!”
“They’d build a bridge!”
“It’s too wide for a bridge. It’s more than a thousand miles!”
“WOW – a thousand miles! Great! OK dad, it’s time for me to get on that school bus!”
January 21st, 2013
Today in the USA is Martin Luther King, Jr., day. But sometimes these holidays get confusing for a 6-year-old.
I asked Jacob the other day if he knew what holiday was coming up. He thought about it for a second, then declared it would be St. Patrick’s Day. He was excited because St. Patrick’s Day is green.
When he realized that it was really MLK Day, he was disappointed. “That day isn’t green.” So I said, “Jacob, how about we celebrate pretend St. Patrick’s Day on Monday?” His face lit up, he got a huge smile, and said, “Oh yes! Great idea, dad!” Oliver got all excited about it too.
I was already planning on us doing some cooking, and thankfully had green food coloring already. So I sort of discarded my plans so each meal could have something green in it.
When the boys woke up this morning, I wished each of them “Happy Pretend St. Patrick’s Day!” We all wore green. Jacob put his shirt on backwards so the side with more green would be facing front.
For breakfast, our green dish was green crepes with a succotash (based on baby lima beans and corn) filling. The boys were excited to discover that the crepes could be green on one side, and green and a little brown on the other. Jacob was unsure of the succotash idea, but after having a few bites, declared it “excellent”.
After breakfast, we made bread. They loved watching the green food coloring disperse in the water. We checked on how green the dough looked periodically. We watched how it was rising and whether it was staying green. And we checked in on it backing, as the crust turned from green to brown. We discussed green bread over and over. Important questions were asked and answers were attempted.
And then, of course, the moment of truth – removing the loaf from the pan.
The boys jabbered excitedly that there was some green peeking out. While we waited for it to cool, we went out to the creek. The creek is dry this year, so we got to walk in it. Jacob used his stick to make a line behind him. I asked him, “Is that a line so we can find our way back?” “Oh! Uhm. Yes!” And then he added arrows so we’d know which way to go.
Jacob stopped every 20 or so feet to collect pretend train tickets from Oliver and me. Oliver eventually grew tired of this, so Jacob started collecting Oliver’s ticket from me. They climbed on some trees, managed to find some mud, drew outlines of train cars in the dirt, and then followed Jacob’s line back down the creek bed. They pointed out any green things they saw.
Then we went back to the house, took off our warm coats, and cut into the bread.
Can you imagine the excitement?
I hadn’t realized “green” is a flavor, but it must have been somehow, because those boys absolutely loved this green bread. When we got out the jam, Jacob realized that it was red on the green bread, and that now his bread was Christmas-colored.
All sorts of green bread discoveries were made, but the best among them was that if you hold a slice of green bread up to the bright sun, the sun makes it glow green and it looks like a stained-glass window.
Sometimes a few drops of food coloring can add a ton of excitement to a day.
December 28th, 2012
Sometimes an attic is all it takes to delight children.
This afternoon, the boys and I made cookies. Jacob has been talking about setting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus for several days, and of course the fact that we had made cookies reminded him of this – as I figured it would. So after the boys got into their pajamas and all ready for bed, we set out milk and cookies for Santa.
The boys have always known that Santa is pretend, but love the stories and traditions anyhow. Never mind that Christmas was 3 days ago, and they’ve already opened their presents. It’s SANTA! It’s magic! It doesn’t matter!
I asked Jacob, “Would you like me to pretend to be Santa tonight?” A big grin, then “Oh yes, dad! Do it!”
So after I read them their bedtime story, sang them a song (Jacob chose a Latin hymn – that’s my boy!), and tucked them into bed, I pretended to be Santa. I went back downstairs. I drank the milk and ate the cookies. Then I went to my small future present stash, selected a few small items, and put them under the tree. I gave it a few minutes.
Then I crept up to the attic. I snuck along the wood floors quietly, until I was above the boys’ room.
Then I jumped. And I scraped a wood chair along the floor. And then I yelled out – “HO HO HO! Merry Christmas!” I had a brief conversation with Rudolph, then made some sliding noises. I was silent for a few seconds, then made some more noise and said, “Wow, Rudolph, Jacob and Oliver left some great milk and cookies! Let’s go deliver the rest of our presents!” And made some vague sleigh taking off from the roof of a house noises.
I crept back down the stairs. I put my ear to the outside of the closed door to the boys’ bedroom. I heard Jacob excitedly jabbering, “He said milk and cookies! He liked them! He really liked them! Ooo butterfly, he was here!” (Butterfly is a stuffed, er, butterfly that he sleeps with.)
I gave it a minute or two, then I went in. “Jacob, did you hear something?”
“What was it?”
“Well, it was a loud thud! I sat straight up like this. [ he demonstrates ] Then I heard ‘ho ho ho’! And ‘milk and cookies’! And I was excited like this!” [ more demonstrations ]
“What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know! Dad, what did you do?”
I told him. It only increased his delight.
“Did it sound like Santa’s sleight landing?”
“(annoyed) No, dad. It sounded like a crash. (brightening) And then Santa coming down the chimney with presents! Oh, it is so exciting!”
(We don’t have a chimney)
It was still magical, even though he knew exactly what happened.
For his part, Oliver slept through it all. He will still discover the empty plate, empty cup, and slightly less empty area underneath the tree. And neither boy knows about the thank you note from Santa yet. I anticipate smiles in the morning!