Becoming Bethany

Observations on becoming and being

Arrival

I tumble into bed after a long day (week? year?). I reach for the book even though I am more ready for sleep than for inspiration but I am in the middle of an experiment and I would hate to mess up the consistent streak and have to start all over again. So will (determination? stubbornness?) wins out over desire (healthy emotional boundaries? self-care?) and through squinting, tired eyes I read:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
(St. John)

Even through my exhausted haze, the symmetry of this passage quietly thrills me as it does every time I read it. The writer’s allusions to nature, ancient literature and symbols, Greek and Hebrew philosophy, cosmic forces, and the cyclical nature of time (among other things) are all so unpretentiously condensed into one poetic paragraph explaining the mystery of incarnation. I sigh contentedly in my sleepy contemplation and find a moment for pure wonder before nodding off.

***

I can feel my soul struggling like a runner in the last miles of a marathon. I am tired and I admit to being tired. I am not entirely sure where the finish line is for this leg of the race. But I am also aware that I need to do all I can to just keep going. And I hope with the deepest hope I can muster that some triumph is just a few miles away.

***

I leave work and drive to my favorite independent cinema through slow evening traffic. I am being unusually spontaneous but after two weekends and most of a week of being sick in bed with a seasonal cold, I can’t just go home and go straight to bed again. I feel my soul starting to give in to the cold as well and I need a remedy stat! I’m afraid I’m still too contagious to be social so I bargain with myself that if I buy a hot tea and sit far from anyone else in the theater (which shouldn’t be difficult on a Tuesday night) then I can see a movie without further harm to myself or others.

I make it to the cinema just in time to get a hot peppermint tea and find a seat two rows from anyone else. I am expecting a visually beautiful and mildly philosophical exploration of how we view “the Other”. And the film definitely delivers that but also explores language and time and symbols and moral obligation in ways I have rarely seen film do so poetically.

I watch a woman struggle to love herself while loving her work so devotedly that she will risk her life to accomplish her assigned task. I watch her come to know herself and her people in deeper ways as she comes to know “the Other”. I watch her passion for language and communication drive her to keep working on the most difficult job she has ever been given. I watch her receive the gift of seeing her whole life with all of its joys and pains and disappointments and choose it anyway – again and again.

And in the last 5 minutes, as her story comes full circle, I cannot stop the tears flowing down my face. I sit stunned in the dark theater until the last note of the score has faded and lights come up. I walk stunned out of the theater to my car and sit in weeping silence until I feel like I can drive home. I walk silently into my room and close the door and sit in the wonder.

I am deeply grateful for the gifts that Story has given me over and over again – new perspective and understanding. Watching someone else do the deep wrestling and make the journey gives me hope and inspiration for my own journey. Watching the pieces fall into place for someone else helps me understand how the pieces are falling into place for me. I settle into a deep peace before I fall asleep.

***

On the first day of my vacation week, I have to complete a list of errands that are important but I never have time for during regular weeks. One of the tasks I am dreading the most should be straightforward – name change on my social security card – but it involves going to a government office. I know most people don’t like government offices but after a childhood spent in immigration offices in various countries, I have a near-phobia of them. I push myself through the line. I steel myself through the waiting time. I will myself to slide the papers across the desk and answer the bureaucracy as politely but succinctly as possible. I am so caught up in just making it through the ordeal that I almost miss the parting words of the administrator. They are words I have been desperately hoping to hear for almost three years. But never in my wildest imaginings did I ever expect them to come from a government employee behind a cubicle divider.

“You are restored.”

I blink twice and my jaw drops. I stammer a “thank you” when I understand that he means my legal name has been restored. But I walk out of the government office with my heart beating a little faster and my step a little faster.

***

Advent. (n. Old English, from Latin adventus ‘arrival,’ from advenire, from ad- ‘to’ + venire ‘come.’)

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year. Like all things new, it marks a renewed hope for what is to come. Every year we remind ourselves of the Word that was here from the beginning but that we are also waiting for. That which we hope for but have also already received. That which we know is within our grasp but we are also running toward.

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
(Adolphe Adam)

Do Hard Things

I don’t like to admit it but this time of year is hard for me. There are layers and layers of memories stacked on top of each other like pancakes. Some are crisp and clear. Some are indistinct and mushy. Some are so sweet and lovely and some leave a bad taste in my mouth. Some of the dearest and some of the most painful memories of my life are all crammed into about 8 weeks on the calendar.

This time of year,

8 years ago I was falling love with the man I would eventually marry. It was lovely and magical and unexpected and everything I could have dreamed and more. It felt like the best gift I had ever been given.

7 years ago we got engaged on the weekend between Thanksgiving and my birthday. We were both so happy and excited for the future that we couldn’t stop glowing for days.

6 years ago we celebrated our first married Thanksgiving by inviting a bunch of people over and cooking our first turkey. We planned to make it a tradition and host Thanksgiving as often as possible for as many as our home could hold.

3 years ago my then-husband began the process of leaving me though I was unaware until several months later and even now I don’t really know all that transpired in those months. I was not part of the decisions being made about my life. All I knew at the time was that everything felt strange and confusing and out-of-place.

2 years ago I had the hardest conversation of my life and agreed to my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s terms of divorce. I cried and prayed for days before we met not knowing how else to prepare for a conversation like that. But then when we finally spoke, I felt the deepest peace.

1 year ago our divorce was finalized on the day of our engagement anniversary. I felt immense relief and freedom but also so much loss and grief. I felt drained of everything that had come before but hopeful and expectant for whatever would come next.

It is overwhelming to process all of these memories that fall within the same couple of months. Our first date was the night of the first presidential debate in 2008 and the air feels familiar. The time the sun goes down each day is the same as the year our life began to unravel. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and my birthday is a week later. I look forward to the celebrations but also dread the residual grief.

This time of year rolls around and my heart and spirit feel weak and kind of fragile. I look for opportunities to create new, happy memories. I try to be gentler with myself. I lower my expectations for what I can accomplish because I know my soul is working hard to keep processing and healing.

But if I’m honest with myself, I just want to have it all resolved. I want to have all the whys answered and all the details clear so I do not have to keep processing complicated grief. I want good and bad memories in separate tidy baskets when most of life does not actually sort that way. I want things to be black and white but they are often truer in gray. I am learning to be comfortable with uncertain but it is hard to do.

When I am ready to just throw up my hands and give up, I remember the words a dear friend repeats often, “You are doing hard things. It is so important to do hard things. Hard things can sometimes take a lifetime but they are still worth doing.”

I know we are all doing hard things – processing complicated feelings, loving those who are difficult to love, taking good care of ourselves and our people, reaching out with empathy and understanding to those we don’t agree with, grieving, hoping, and trying to continue moving into greater wholeness. It’s difficult. The road is often hazy and unclear.

But keep going – doing hard things is worth it. And it’s so important.

Complicated Gratefulness

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I am standing on top of 2,500-year-old temple ruins in southern Mexico and my breath catches in my throat. I look out over the green grass and the rocks and the perfectly blue sky with a smattering of clouds and as happens so often when I see something unspeakably beautiful, I can feel tears welling up in my eyes. The moment is so brief but holy and lyrics of a Gungor song come to mind:

I see it all like a hymn
The constant refrain of the echo and change
And all is beautiful

There is no giving without any taking
There’s no love without any loss
Everything everyone building and breaking
Oh I see the grace of it all
All is beautiful

I did not travel here on some spiritual pilgrimage or even a vacation. I am actually here for work and we took an hour break from panels and screenings and receptions (not to mention the mountain of emails that need attention) to see a bit of the city we are visiting. And it is in that seemingly mundane situation that I remember again how incredibly fortunate I am to do what I do for a living.

You see, my job (like every job) has monotonous tasks and lots of hours in front of a computer screen and sometimes working through weekends and tedious things that just have to be done however unexciting it is to do them. But it has also taken me all over the world and allowed me to meet artists in cities whose names I had never even heard before. It is rewarding and fulfilling and I know how rare that is and I do not take that privilege lightly.

At the same time, I am keenly aware that the only reason I can do this job is because I don’t have young children. And because I don’t have a spouse or even a serious partner, picking up and jetting off to another country or city for a week is something I can do easily. When I started this job, I had a spouse and we were talking about children in a couple years once we felt more settled in our careers.

Sometimes I think about those plans and how differently my life has turned out. I think about how many places I would not have gone, how many amazing experiences I would not have had, how many fascinating people I would not have met. And I feel this complicated gratefulness. Grateful for the the really unique experiences. Grateful for the openness and freedom that permeates my life but also sometimes grieving the seeming stability and clearer future of the life I had planned.

I look at my friends who have laid aside or taken less demanding jobs so they can spend time with their babies and honestly, sometimes I feel a little jealous. They are watching a little person learn to walk or teaching her new words or hearing him giggle when he discovers sand for the first time. From talking with them, I know they keenly feel the privilege of what they get to do as well. I also know there is a complicated gratefulness for them as well. Grateful for their children. Grateful for the time to spend raising them but also sometimes missing the personal fulfillment that comes with more free time and a more results-oriented job.

Complicated gratefulness–it almost feels inherently ungrateful to even mention the difficult parts of what we are grateful for. To mention the sacrifices that come with the blessings. To sit in the tension of having something really wonderful but also aware that it is still not what you truly desire. I wonder if those things we are grateful for that are complicated are where we actually learn what gratefulness is.

We are thankful for our warm houses but also aware how much work it takes to pay the rent or mortgage. We are thankful for our families but also aware of the brokenness that even the best families experience. We are thankful for our friends but also aware that our friends have gossiped or been petty or forgotten to invite us to a birthday party.

That we can still be grateful for these gifts even while acknowledging the difficulties or hardships that come with them is incredibly beautiful to me. It feels richer and deeper than only being grateful for the simple or easy things. It feels both more honest and more gracious to look at the world as it really is and be thankful for the gifts while also acknowledging the hardship or pain that can accompany them.

I Carry Memories in My Body

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I carry memories in my body.

The scar on my right shin is from my attempt to waterski at age 9 that ended in a trip to the emergency room and 17 stitches. I remember it as the day I learned boats have sharp motor blades and pain is not always felt immediately.

I have silver in my left middle finger leftover from a high school art class where I learned solder, melt and pour medal, and make jewelry. It’s also the class where I was first introduced to The Beatles and I will always associate them with young love.

My right thumb will never bend all the way since I broke two bones while snow skiing. I took two more runs before it swelled to the point that my glove would no longer fit and I figured I should probably go to the medical center to get it X-rayed. I was 18 by then but I guess I still hadn’t learned that shock can delay pain.

When I lived in seasonal climates, my hair had sections of blonde like rings in a tree that marked the summer months when the sun bleached it light. I now live with permanent tan lines and can remember exactly which blouse or swimsuit I was wearing on a particularly sunny day just from the lines on my skin.

I carry memories in my body. Some are lodged deep somewhere between my muscle and bone. The memories that my body remembers maybe better than my mind.

I have friends who as soon as I see them, my face beams and I feel laughter welling up in my belly. So many days and years of laughing together until we could not speak and tears streamed down our faces that now my body remembers how I feel when I am with them without even being prompted.

One day last week, my arms felt almost too heavy to lift and the weight on my shoulders made it difficult to stand straight. I had slept well. I wasn’t sick. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me until I looked at the calendar and realized it was a formerly special anniversary. My body carried my grief even though my mind had not remembered.

I carry memories in my body. Most of them I did not choose to store there.

I have been contemplating a tattoo for several years now. A small line of text on the inside of my left wrist. The word and the script have changed over time but the desire to have a permanent symbol intentionally marked on my body has not. At one point I wanted the word “beautiful” (jamila) in Arabic script. When I told the guy I was dating at the time, he smiled and asked me, “Why would you want that when it’s already written all over your body?”

It is one of the sweetest compliments I have ever received, but it also made me stop and wonder for a minute: what else does my body say? What can you read just by looking at me?

I carry memories in my body. We all do. What do yours tell you?

Bless

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“Find someone to bless today,” my mom would whisper in my ear each morning as she hugged and kissed me when she dropped me off at school.

“The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” I have heard this benediction most Sunday mornings of my life spoken from pulpits of a myriad of Christian denominations all over the world.

“Be a blessing!” My parents would cheerfully call out when we left the house the same way some parents call out, “Be safe!” or “Make wise choices!”

When I was 9 or 10 years old, I listened to a sermon preached on Genesis 12:2-3 nearly every week for several months and never ceased to get chills whenever I heard the promise to Abraham, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

I love blessing – both giving and receiving. I love seeing blessing in the world. Sometimes when I am having a bad day, I even look up #blessed on Twitter just to see what people are feeling blessed about. (Confession: I am alternately inspired and amused and both make me feel better.) Blessing is a word that has surrounded and sustained me.

So why did I cry in church this Sunday when the pastor challenged us to find three people to bless somehow this week?

A) I am feeling really drained right now and I don’t know what I have to give.
B) I am overwhelmed and grateful for the blessing I have received in my own life.
C) I am still recovering from having some of the most costly blessings I have ever given devalued and discarded.
D) I recognize how much need there is for blessing in the world and I don’t know what I can possibly do to even begin to address that need.
E) There are people I would rather curse than bless right now and I am feeling convicted to bless them anyway.
F) Blessing is sacred and beautiful and mysterious and I always get a little teary-eyed thinking about it.
G) I feel unworthy to bless others.
H) I have had blessings spoken over me by people who have since rejected me and that is confusing.
I) All of the above.

Answer: I) All of the above.

You may have noticed as I did, that many of my responses are related to fear. Fear of not having enough. Fear of not being enough. Fear of being rejected. Fear of not getting what I “deserve”. Fear of failure.

When I look at those fears, I realize they are all about me. But blessing is not about me. In fact, what makes it so mysterious and beautiful and life-changing is the fact that even when I find a way to bless others, it is still not about me at all. Barbara Brown Taylor puts it like this:

All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.

All I have to be is willing. And I am. I do not have to be special or skilled or chosen or even ready. So I am setting aside my fears and looking for ways to bless. And just hoping that good comes from it. That in some small way I can participate in what God is doing in the world. Once again, I am asked to approach life with open hands instead of clenched fists. To show up and do what I can but not feel like I have to make it all better. To recognize the miracle that it is that “we are able bless one another at all”.

Ugly

I can feel the insides of me recoil and try to pull away. But I don’t know where my insides think they can go since my body is still holding them. And my body stays where I am because I don’t know where I could retreat to anyway. The ugliness feels all around.

It has been a week of re-confronting really ugly things – about myself, about loved ones, about society, about my country. And I’m not just talking about politics. It’s also really intimate things like who you love and trust and where you put your hope and how you can look away from destructive words and actions and hope they don’t harm you if you don’t see them. As if the snake in the grass won’t bite you if you just give it its space.

It has been too many instances of seeing things that make me say “Yuck!” and “Really?!” and “That’s terrible!”. Things that make me want to both yell and raise a ruckus and also just silently slink away so I don’t have to do the hard stuff like confrontation or self-evaluation.

It has been too many nights of staying up late with my mind moving too fast and my stomach all tangled up in knots. Googling articles and think-pieces trying to make sense of it all until I fall into the restless sleep of exhaustion. Why do politics inspire fear and anger? Why is misogyny still so strong in 2016? Why do cheaters cheat? How do you know if someone is trustworthy? How do people justify racism? I wake up in the morning already tired because I know I will still be searching today. Trying to find reason that will put me at ease.

I have all kinds of questions about the bad things that good people can put up with. Are they actually bad things? Maybe my definitions are wrong. Are they really good people? Maybe I misunderstand their motivations. The questions swirl round and round like different flavors of ice cream in a bowl until everything looks brownish-gray and I have no more clarity but I have definitely lost my appetite.

I hear other people asking these questions but for some reason they feel far away. I love the way beauty brings people closer together. The way that recognizing beauty together can make us feel like longtime friends recently reunited. Ugliness brings us together too but more like sick people in the same hospital ward. We are all in this together. Until we can get out and go back to our own homes.

We compare symptoms and wounds and all shake our heads in concern and each secretly hopes that her illness is not as bad as that other person’s because that sounds truly unbearable. Of course we would never say that aloud. We just think it as we limp away nursing a gangrened leg.

Ugliness makes me feel alone and confused. I will try not to dwell on it much longer. I want to return to a hopeful, optimistic view of myself, my loved ones, society, and our country. I want to go back to finding beauty and redemption in the mundane and hidden places. Instead of mostly seeing ugliness that makes me skittish and nervous about exploring any further.

I also think it is good from time to time to acknowledge the things that make your stomach turn and your skin feel hot and itchy. To acknowledge that in this grand world somehow beauty and ugliness stand side by side. And somehow we live it all.

Dust In My Pocket

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I find my way back to the desert often. Over and over again it has become a comfortable place. The openness and wildness appeal to me. It reaches some place in my soul that I cannot reach on my own. I can cry or scream or sing or shout and the space can take it. It rolls my burdens away like tumbleweed.

I let the sun darken my skin and bleach my hair until I am monotone. Anything rough or harsh smoothed over by the grit and sand. I think I know who I am here. In civilization I don’t know if I do. Among people. But there is no comparison here. In the desert, I am only me.

In the expanse, my soul can wander free. Like a child set free in an open field. My time here in the vast is a privilege as much as a necessity. The desert provides a recess from the pressure to study, work, talk, perform.

I lay down in the cool clear night air to sleep. To rest. To let my mind flit and float wherever it will. To make the connections I cannot see when I am awake. Comfort and quietness roll over and cover me like a thick blanket.

When my eyes open, with the dawn light streaming through, I feel newborn. Naked and too-new, a little raw, and very alone. Do I feel aching loneliness or the deepest of peace? I can’t tell. But the day seems fresh and the space seems wide so I unfurl my limbs and stand and walk into the new day.

Back in the city, I hear the voices and see the smiles and the tears. I hug and hold and listen and smile and talk and frown. In my pocket, I carry back the dust of the desert. When things start moving too fast and the clamor gets too loud, I reach down and feel the grittiness in my fingers. I remember the desert peace.

Sometimes I see others. With dust on their wrists and sand under their fingernails and I know they are kin. I see they have also been to the wilderness and clawed their way through dunes. I see the hard-won hope sparkle in their eyes like the bright desert stars and my soul leaps. I reach for their hand and beg,

Tell me of the beauty of you have found in the unlikely places.

Sympathy From Strangers

Like everyone else in my generation, I remember exactly where and how I found out about the tragedy on September 11, 2001. But September 11, 2002 has also remained a clear memory for me.

“Where are you from?” He pronounced each word slowly and deliberately but without any threat and his large friendly eyebrows rose higher with each syllable.

He did not know how complicated this question is for me to answer. That I was born in one country but had spent most of my life in other countries and that this was my new unknown home but also another country I would never be from. That this was one of my first ventures outside of our bare new apartment to try to get to know my new city of residence.

“I am from America,” I said very softly hoping none of the brightly-scarved shoppers nearby would overhear. I quickly picked up another pair of jeans to inspect so I would not look even more out of place on the busy pedestrian-only shopping street.

“Oh. America.” His large mournful eyes stayed fixed on mine as he slowly and deliberately shook his head back and forth three times. “I am very, very sorry for what happen your country. It. Is. Terr-i-ble. Worst thing.”

I looked up at him surprised as I set the jeans back down. This response was so unexpected that it took me a moment to even register what he was referring to. Apparently in my jet-lagged-mind-fuzziness I had forgotten that today was September 11, 2002.

“Thank you. It is very sad,” I said not sure how else to answer in very simple English and shook my head in rhythm with his. I hoped he knew how much I appreciated his sentiment. Of course he could not know that my family had also been personally affected by the tragedy – that my mother had lost a cousin that fateful morning.

“How long you here Türkiye?” he asked.

Was he asking how long I had been here? Or how long I would be here? I was still trying to program my brain to quickly interpret English from a Turkish accent and grammar. I hoped he knew that I was answering slowly not because I did not appreciate his kindness but because it takes me time to acclimate to new accents just like it takes me time to acclimate to the new sounds and smells of a place. The salty, crisp air of Istanbul usually mixed with smells of tea and bread and sometimes sugar had been immediately appealing and welcoming to me. The sounds of honking buses, yelling mothers, barking foodcart men, and early morning calls to prayer – less so. It was going to take me time to learn to appreciate those sounds as well – sounds that I would eventually miss and be homesick for. But neither the kind jeans seller nor I knew that yet.

“I arrived seven days ago,” I finally answered wondering if he knew the word “arrive”.

“Ooooh. Seven days!” His scruffy handsome face opened up into a huge smile and he reached for my right hand with both of his large hands and shook it vigorously. “Hoşgeldiniz! Welcome!”

“Thank you!” I said much more warmly this time and smiled back. The noisy background already seemed a little less threatening.

Then his face fell again and he paused obviously searching for words. I wished I knew enough Turkish so that he would not have to struggle in a second language to find the words that were obviously so important to him. But he found the tricky English words on his own anyway.

Türkiye is good. Türkiye people is good. We good Muslim. They is BAD people.” He waved his hand somehow both emphatically and dismissively. I knew he was trying to explain that he did not condone the actions of those young men on that day exactly one year before. Still at a loss for words, I just nodded and matched mournful eyes with his.

He did not know that I was unafraid of Islam. That I had already lived in a Muslim country where I had been treated like a cousin, daughter, friend. That my Muslim friends had fed me warm rice pilafs, and taught me how to roll out flat bread, and invited me to their weddings and bridal showers where we danced until our feet hurt. He also did not know that even with my warm and amiable experiences in the past, I was a little worried how that history-shaping day was already changing my world and my friendships. I was aware that all over the globe, subtle shifts and fractures were already forming. I was afraid these divisions might mean that I would lose some of those relationships and invitations. I wondered if they would even want an American girl dancing on their wedding floors anymore. I must have still looked unsure because he reiterated,

Türkiye is good. Türkiye people is good.” Then his smile and arms spread even wider as he said a little too loudly, “I LOOOVE America people.”

It was the kind of kindness that makes you smile through teary eyes.

“Thank you,” I said and meant it even more than the first two times. Neither of us knew what foreign policies were being written up in both of our governments’ capitols. Neither of us knew what public statements our presidents might make. But right here and right now, we knew that we would not let the bad guys win. We knew that we could be kind and receptive and welcoming to someone who does not speak the same language or practice the same religion.

He closed his eyes and nodded knowingly. Then opened them wide, clapped both hands together, and pointed to the pile of denim in front of him and asked, “What size? Medium? Large? X-large?”

And I laughed. Grateful for the moment of connection and grateful that ordinary life continues even while the world changes.

I Got My Name Back Today

I got my name back today. 

The family name I inherited from some Medieval Anglo-Saxon ancestor. The first name my parents very intentionally chose before I was born hoping I would grow into one day. The middle name that is also my mother’s middle name and my first-generation-American Italian great-grandmother’s first name. 

It feels more momentous and more hopeful than I expected it to. I feel like I got back a little piece of my identity that has been out wandering somewhere. I feel like I am coming home to a family and legacy that wants me and claims and values me. I am no longer tied by name to a family that has rejected, forgotten, and shamed me. 

It’s really all just words on a legal document (that took nine months post-divorce to finalize) but for some reason it matters. And for some reason, today I feel like celebrating. In all the recent legal documents I have had filed and stamped and notarized and returned to me, this is the first one that feels worth celebrating. So I am. I have another little piece of who I am returned to me. 

Trying Not to Laugh

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When my therapist first asked, “Can you picture yourself married again sometime in the future?” my immediate response was to laugh. My signature was barely dry on the divorce documents. I had been told every reason imaginable why I was terrible to be married to and miserable to live with. I was still transitioning my love for my now ex-husband from that of a spouse to something else. I had had my heart broken, seen every dream crushed, and every hope dashed. It sounded impossible and probably foolish to ever consider marriage or even a romantic relationship again.

But my therapist was not being insensitive. He was asking me how broad and deep my vision of healing was. He was asking me to consider what seemed impossible now, being possible some day in the future. He was asking me to stay open to options that seemed risky or foolish because they looked scary and uncontrollable. He was asking me not to close myself off to possibilities just because redemption of parts of my story seemed too far-fetched at that point.

I am thankful for the question. It is one I have returned to often in the last year since he asked. Honestly, I still do not have an answer. I have a hard time imagining falling in love like that again. I do not believe in soul mates but I also do not know how many people you can love as deeply as I loved him. I cannot picture moving through the relationship stages that take someone from dating to engaged to married with someone else. I know how that happened for me last time but I imagine it would be different with a different person. I do not think this is a situation where having previous experience really helps all that much. (In fact, sometimes I worry it could be a hindrance.)

I want to be open to whatever and wherever my life might lead next. My journey has already looked drastically different than I had expected it to (more than once) in my short 30 years. I did not expect to get married and then getting divorced was never even a possibility for me. Love and hope and healing have come to me in packages I have not always recognized as gifts. In some ways, my dreams have been too small and in other ways, there are things I wish for that I will probably never see.

I am an advocate for sharing stories while you are in the middle and not waiting until you know the end. This is a chapter that I am just at the beginning. These past few months since I have been open to dating again, I have been reminded what a humbling process it is. For me, it takes skills that do not come naturally and reveals aspects of society I would rather not confront. It is also stretching my heart and mind and soul in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable.

The stretching can re-open wounds that have only just healed and reveal places that are still raw. I am willing to go through whatever discomfort is necessary for greater healing but I also want to be wise and gentle with myself. So I am taking baby steps. I am aware that I am re-learning how to walk certain paths and hope in certain outcomes. I am giving myself time to get used to this world again and giving myself permission to pull back when it feels like too much or too soon.

When I am sitting across from someone new, as interested as I am in him and his experiences, there is still sometimes an ache for the depth that comes with the familiar. Sometimes it is difficult not to just wish for the story I thought I knew – the story I would have written for myself. Dating and getting to know new people pushes me to be open to a new path that is full of risk and uncertainty. I know that with that risk also comes the potential for something really wonderful and beautiful and life-giving which is the only reason I am willing to try at all.

If you asked me today, “Can you picture yourself married again sometime in the future?” I think my answer would still be, “It seems unlikely.” But I will not say it is impossible and I will not laugh. My story is unfolding in ways I would have never imagined and all I hope for every day is that it will be a good story – whatever that may mean for me.