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A Yom Kippur Reflection: Forgiving Myself

September 29, 2020

In March 2019, I attended the Power of Narrative conference in Boston with my close friend, Ann marie. The time spent with her was not only wonderful for our friendship and for inspiring our writing, but the days served as a turning point for me. I spent the majority of that time talking to Ann marie about my myriad of feelings, my marriage, and the direction in which I knew my life needed to go, but I was scared to make moves toward it at that point.

Something I admitted to Ann marie – and I’ve thought about often before and after – was I felt a tremendous sense of guilt that, in many ways, I’d been living a lie; pretending that I was okay; that my marriage and my life were okay. If I was being completely honest with myself, I knew for quite some time that the relationship had shifted; that I had shifted. I didn’t blame my ex-husband, and I didn’t necessarily feel badly for changing either. But I DID feel a lot of guilt and shame for carrying that in me for so very long. Did I waste my life? Did I waste his life? This is probably one of the hardest things I grappled with (and still grapple with) in my divorce.

In Boston, Ann marie and I had dinner with her then 22-year-old son, Jackson, and his girlfriend. Before dinner, she said this to me: “While we’re sitting at dinner tonight, I want you to look at Jackson and his girlfriend, and think about how young he is. And then I want you to remember you at that same age. And I want you to have some compassion for that young girl who was only doing what she knew as the truth in that moment in time, at that age.”

At dinner that night, I looked at her son and remembered those words. It suddenly hit me like a gut punch (the many drinks probably contributed to that). In fact, Ann marie said she could tell just by looking at my face when I had the realization.

I thought, “How the hell does anyone know ANYTHING at that age? What the hell did I know about relationships or life or MYSELF at that age? How would I know where I would be at age 40?” I was 21 when I met my ex-husband, and 25 when we got married. I was a kid, for all intensive purposes.

While that realization helped me tremendously with perspective, I still really struggle(d) with allowing myself to be okay with the choices I made, and feeling like I was living a dishonest life, in some ways.

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Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is the holiest holiday of the Jewish year; the day we ask G-d for forgiveness. We are then wiped clean of our sins, given a fresh start, and inscribed in the Book of Life. There’s an idea that also comes with Yom Kippur that it is not only G-d you have to ask for forgiveness, but also from others.

I thought a lot about this over these last few few weeks, and about how I still struggle with thinking I was disingenuous with my feelings, and for staying … in a marriage and life that I knew, deep down, wasn’t honest and where I wasn’t happy.

I realized that the one person I needed to forgive in all this was me. I needed to give myself grace for doing the only thing I knew at the time. For acting out of love and preservation and genuine care and concern for my family; never out of malice or ill will toward myself, my ex-husband, our daughter, his family or mine. I did not lie to myself and others on purpose. In some ways, I didn’t even know I was “living a lie” or know who I was until more recently. So how could I fault myself for that?

I had to look at me, at 25 years old, the same way I looked at Jackson, and have that same realization … Leah was just a kid! What did she know about life when she was a mere 25?

I came across a Yom Kippur reflection on Instagram this past weekend that said the following:

Yom Kippur is not a day of regret for who you’ve become.

Yom Kippur is the day you are embraced for who you truly are.

You are a divine soul.

This really struck me, as it fit completely with the idea of accepting who I am today. I’m trying very hard to forgive myself; to give myself that grace I know, intellectual, that I deserve and for allowing myself the knowledge that I did the very best thing I knew how to do. And really, isn’t that all we can do? There is but one Book of Life that each of us have. It would be a disservice to that life – to G-d and myself – if I didn’t honor that forgiveness and let that young girl know that she did okay, and she did the one thing she was supposed to do … she got me to where I am today.

P.S. I’m technically not supposed to post on my blog right now while it’s in transition. But this writing was too timely to not post. I’ll seek forgiveness (from my web developer) next year. 

Elul and the End of Summer: The Bridge to a New Year

September 4, 2020

Today is 15 Elul, 5780.

Wait, aren’t we in September, you ask?

Yes, technically, today is September 4, 2020. But according to the Jewish calendar, we’re in the month of Elul. The Jewish calendar does not follow Western calendar dates because it’s based on the lunar cycle. That’s why Jewish holidays always fall on different dates each year (but they’re always on the same date on the Jewish calendar).

The month of Elul, which goes from August 21 – September 19, is thought to be a sacred period of time. It’s the month that precedes the High Holidays, the start of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

During Elul, we take time to reflect on how we’ve lived our life and how we want to live differently in the coming year. It’s meant to be a time of reflection, a time to turn inward, a time to consider what was before and what is coming ahead. And during the Days of Awe (the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), we reflect, make amends with G-d, make a plan for the future, and begin the new year with a blank page in the Book of Life.

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Last month, I kept seeing an idea that spoke deeply to me, in a way it never did before. The idea was that August is a bridge … a bridge between summer and fall; between what the first half of the year was and what we want for the remaining part of the year. Around the same time this idea was marinating in my mind, I realized we are in the month of Elul.

Perhaps because 2020 has been … a year, in many ways, I welcome the idea and opportunity to look at what life this year has been for me and how I want to finish it. So much has been said about 2020 and what kind of year it’s been. And it’s true 2020 has been difficult, full of uncertainty and looked nothing like I thought it would on New Year’s Day.

But, to me, 2020 has also been beautiful, reflective, full of truly incredible and life-affirming moments, an opportunity for growth and change, and for me to learn so much about myself, and it made me slow down and really take stock of my life. … And the year’s not over yet!

I look at what’s happened in my life since last September 2019—my divorce, selling the first Indiana house (and last house my ex-husband and I owned), buying a new home on my own, running goals and accomplishments, my health, my writing, friendships and relationships, a global pandemic, Sophie and the start of her middle school years—and it does feel, to me, like a new chapter began last September. And now I’m here, at a natural place in time of ending and beginning.

I’ll give you two examples of how this time presents itself as a starting point. Three years ago, August 2017, was when I decided to take stock of my health and began living a healthier lifestyle, which also coincided to when I started to shed weight. After feeling quite stagnant in that health space for most of this year, last month, in August 2020, I sat down with my trainer/friend/counselor who helped me take stock of my life and health again. And together, we made a new plan for myself. It’s only been a few weeks, but I already feel better in that regard.

My running was a source of frustration in 2020. Every race and event I planned for was cancelled. Group runs ceased and running friendships changed. Twenty-nineteen was spent running predominantly with friends (in fact, that was one of my goals last year: to run and converse with people). This year, nearly all my runs have been alone. I seriously questioned what I wanted from running and whether it had run its course for me (no pun intended).

And then last month, something shifted in me. I found a new structure for my running that sparked some confidence and an excitement that I hadn’t felt in a long time, probably since last fall. It’s no coincidence that, two years ago August-September, was when I was treated for a leg stress fracture and it was that same time I rebuilt my running self to get to where I am now. And now I’m here, in that same time, ready to rebuild for whatever is meant to come for me.

During this time of Elul, I’ve been reflecting so much about this past year (much of it has been on runs, ironically). Honestly, I’d be doing a disservice to 2020 if I didn’t believe things happened exactly as they should have and it’s all led me to the point I’m at today. I know so much is out of my control, pandemics and politics being two big things.

But what is in my control is how I respond to the things I can’t control. What is in my control is how I choose to see what this year has given me … what I’ve learned about myself and others … and how I want to feel going forward. So that when the Jewish New Year starts on September 19, I’ll know I have made peace with a turbulent year behind me. And I will welcome a new season, new year and the remainder of the calendar year, with grace, appreciation, confidence and hope … for whatever may come.

Back to School and Raising an (Almost) Teen in Unprecedented Times

September 1, 2020

This is not your typical back-to-school blog post.

In September 1987, I started my seventh grade year in middle school. My biggest worry was whether I’d be able to handle being placed in GATE classes (gifted and talented education, GT, advanced classes, as they’re called). Spoiler alert: I did well in nearly all the subjects; I dropped down to regular math. I was quiet, scared and had very few friends. One of my strongest memories of that year was when the English teacher accidentally turned on MTV in class and the “I Got My Mind Set on You” video was playing (I can still see that video). The teacher, Ms. Lorch was her name, said, “Who the heck is this?” George Harrison, we all answered. “The BEATLE!?” she exclaimed.

Two weeks ago, on August 19, 2020, Sophie started her seventh grade year in middle school. While May marked the end of her sixth grader, the last time she set foot in a classroom was March 13. Her biggest worry is forgetting to wear a mask to school and being able to remember her every-other-day in-person/remote learning schedule. Sophie is outgoing, played the lead role in last year’s school musical, performed on the school dance team, and has a fair number of diverse friends, which is pretty impressive considering we’ve only lived here four years.

I often wonder how I got the daughter that I have. In so many ways, Sophie and I could not be more opposite. Although, our middle school fashion sense is eerily similar since she prefers to wear oversized clothes that look like they’re straight out of the late 1980s.

But all kidding aside, Sophie is an extrovert. I’m an introvert. Sophie is LOUD, talks and sings to herself, plays music and shouts on FaceTime while doing school work. I purchased noise-cancelling headphones because I NEED quiet to write (by the way, she’s so loud the headphones don’t really work). At her age (and now), I complete any task, simply because it was assigned and I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Sophie begrudgingly completes tasks with minimal effort, but complains the entire time if she doesn’t think it’s “worthwhile” to do. I was organized, made lists and needed very little supervision. Sophie is scattered, needs constant reminders and help staying on task.

I’m not going to lie when I say raising Sophie these last few years, especially in the middle school years, has been HARD. There is a lot of drama, a lot of anger and back-talk toward me and slamming doors, and a lot of hormones. Many days, I find myself crying wondering where I went wrong (and breaking plates in frustration). I know her behavior is “normal” for girls at her age, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

And during this time of COVID-19, everything is amplified and the uncertainty for the future is just as difficult for her as it is for me. As much as Sophie complains about school, all she really wants to do is be busy, spend the day with her friends, attend basketball games, participate in the school play and after school activities. We are fortunate that she attends school every other day. But that may change by next week.

Still, as much as she drives me crazy at times, I’m proud of that kid. She is so strong and resilient. One of the hardest thing I’ve done in my life was tell Sophie about the divorce. But she’s adapted so incredibly well, has grown and matured, and has an understanding of adult relationships in a different way. And she now has stronger relationships with both me and Bryan.

From politics to social issues to pop culture, Sophie is knowledgeable about so much (more so than I ever was at her age). Part of that is she has the Internet, YouTube and TikTok at her fingertips. But more than that, she thinks deeply about issues and is not afraid to articulate her feelings or opinions (as opposed to me, who has only recently started being comfortable expressing those feelings). She was absolutely serious when she recently told me she plans to file a formal complaint with the school corporation because of the new pandemic schedule.

Would I like her to be more respectful and kinder toward me? YES! Do I want to stop constantly telling her to pick up her trash and complaining about (what seems like) everything? Of course! Do I wish she didn’t place so much importance on her appearance and what others think of her? Absolutely.

But the fact that she gets up every day – in the midst of a global pandemic – continues to learn, is extremely intuitive in her perceptions of people and situations, and teaches herself skills like how to skateboard, is pretty impressive to me.

I read that when it comes to parenting, we’re given the child we need; not the one we want. I think there’s something to that statement. Sophie has a personality all her own. She drives me crazy, more often than not. But she does make life interesting. And I’ll continue to love her until my days are done.

A note about the photo: Sophie said we had to take photos at the park because she didn’t want anyone near school to see her. She also told me to buy her a bag of chips as payment for the photo.

The Things I Believed to Be True

August 7, 2020

“Think back on and write down some of the early messages you received about who you were in the world, what was possible, etc. and then look at their veracity.”

My writing instructor recently shared that idea as a prompt. Reading her truths and thinking about the idea of the messages we receive about our place in the world got me thinking. … And what happens when I start thinking? I write!

So here is a list of early messages and truths I received about myself. Beneath the message is what I think of their veracity today.

If you have a good relationship with your parents, you never get into trouble.
Not quite. … This may have been wishful thinking on the part of my parents. Although I would say I had a good relationship with my parents and I rarely got into trouble (because I was too scared to make a move that would upset them).

Always take the high road and be the bigger person.
This message has been tough to rectify. I want to be a good person. I do believe strongly in being a better person and not engaging in petty behavior. That being said, I think too often that truism becomes an “excuse” or reason to stay silent and not express our feelings. I’ve written about this with respect to myself and anger; how I’ve shoved my own feelings down and not expressed them in order to keep the peace. And I think in some cases, it’s warranted. But other times, being the “bigger person” is also standing up for myself.

Drinking alcohol and doing drugs is a terrible thing.
Not that black and white. I grew up scared to drink or do anything that would get me into trouble. But I don’t think, for me, drinking is a terrible thing to do. I also try to practice one of my dad’s favorite truisms: “moderation.”

Your family members are the only people you can trust.
I’ve come to know that friends, and the family you choose, are also worthy of that trust.

Never go back.
Easier said than done. And I’ve “gone back” on many things. It’s human nature.

You don’t need friends.
Absolutely false. Over the years, friends have been my touchstones.

You’re a wallflower.
The idea I had of myself as a wallflower was almost as if I was told I was a scared girl who didn’t have the courage to “blossom.” I don’t think that was true. I think I was/am an introvert and I lived more inside my mind than in the outside world where the flowers blossomed.

Boys are always going to be intimidated and scared by me.
This one still holds space in my mind. Whether it should or not is a different issue entirely.

If you get married, you honor that commitment no matter what; because that’s what you chose.
I believed this to be true until only a few years ago. The truth is, people change and grow. Life changes us. And sometimes, that idea of marriage and forever does not fit with the changes life brings us.

Don’t trade security for an unsure thing.
Take the risk. Scary and unsure is okay. Stupid is not.

Don’t stand out. Don’t make waves.
Why? Be yourself! If that makes waves, perhaps you’re an ocean.

My parents are proud of me.
Never a doubt in my mind.

What I found fascinating about my messages, as well as those of my writing instructor, is how much of what I believed as a child is false. I think this is really a testament as to how much we change as we grow and experience life for ourselves.

When I was writing this exercise, I kept hearing the following lyrics to a Mary Chapin Carpenter song that’s a perfect illustration of this idea. As always, I’m grateful to her for putting into words and song what I find to be true.

When I was young I spoke like a child, and I saw with a child’s eyes
And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky
It’s funny how the world lives up to all your expectations
With adventures for the stout of heart, and the lure of the open spaces …

But now I’m grown and I speak like a woman and I see with a woman’s eyes
And an open door is to me now like the saddest of goodbyes
It’s too late for turning back, I pray for the heart and the nerve

— Mary Chapin Carpenter, “The Moon and St. Christopher”

What are some of the early messages YOU received about who you were in the world? Are they true today?

A Bittersweet Farewell to the Scrapbook Supplies

July 23, 2020

When I was in my 20s, I was REALLY into scrapbooking. This was back in the early 2000s, before the days of Facebook and Instagram, before Shutterfly photo books, and when we still printed actual photos and put them in albums. This may have even been before I owned a digital camera (I know, I’m really dating myself).

I’ve always loved photography and I’m the person who takes photos at every event. And when I was a kid, I was obsessed with collecting stickers. I don’t quite remember how my infatuation with scrapbooking began, but I think it started when I went to a Creative Memories party at a friend’s house. Creative Memories was the premiere and multi-level marketing company for all-things scrapbook. I got suckered into buying the starter pack, which sat in my house, unused, for quite some time.

Then one day, my friend, Monica, confessed that she started scrapbooking. She attended Friday night get-togethers at a local scrapbook shop. Basically, you’d bring all your supplies and then create pages for your book, and you could pay for and use the supplies at the store. Once I started attending those events and seeing the bountiful supply of stickers, letters and decorated themed papers that were at my disposal, I was hooked!

From that point on, scrapbooking became my life. I scraped every weekend, either with by myself, with Monica, or with my sister, Sari, who later got into the craze as well. I made several albums that featured my sisters, dogs, holidays, my wedding, honeymoon and travel, Disney … so many! Monica and I later became Creative Memories consultants and we sold product and hosted parties, mainly to get early access and a discount for everything we were already buying. I subscribed to scrapbook magazines and attended scrapbooking conventions (oh yes, there were conventions!). I bought SO MANY supplies … stickers, paper, albums, additional packets of pages, page protectors, page kits, pens … everything! I spent SO MUCH MONEY on scrapbooks and supplies that it literally filled multiple totes in my house.

And then one day, I stopped scrapbooking. It was not a conscious choice to stop. I think I just got busy with raising a small child and celebrating the actual milestones with her. I was working full time and starting my business. By the time Sophie was a toddler, Facebook was becoming the go-to digital scrapbook (back when the social media giant was about sharing photos and stories, not hate and shaming people).

I’ve written before that I don’t like to hold onto things, especially physical items. But I could not let go of the scrapbooking supplies. When I packed my house to move to Indiana four years ago, I told myself I should just donate the scrapbook stuff and not pay to move it across the country. But I just couldn’t; and on the moving truck it went. When I packed to move into my new house this spring, I still couldn’t let the stuff go, even knowing I would never scrapbook again.

I think there are several reasons why I could not let it go. The first was the feelings of guilt and shame I had that went with the supplies. As I said, I spent so much money on those items; money that contributed to our debt and credit cards. Every time I saw those tubs of things, all I saw was wasted money. I was ashamed of that. So I kept it, thinking that I need to hold onto the stuff to own the debt.

I’m a person who likes to finish what she starts. I feel compelled to cross tasks off lists. It took years before I allowed myself to stop reading book mid way through because I didn’t like it, or give up a television show after a few episodes. I realized I didn’t have to see everything through. I could – gasp – leave things undone. I had grandiose plans to create those scrapbooks; to make Sophie’s baby book and use all the pumpkin patch kits I bought to showcase those autumnal traditions we participated in. So if I let the supplies go, I was admitting that I would never finish what I started.

Those albums and part of my life were also tied to the early years of my marriage and some of the more carefree and happy times in my life, my 20s. Life changed and things didn’t end up being as happy as a scrapbook spread. That’s a hard thing to own up to. Additionally, I had grown apart from my friend Monica, who was my scrapbooking partner-in-crime.

A few weeks ago, I was in my new basement sorting boxes and the scrapbook supplies began staring me in the face. And I knew it was finally time to let them go. I photographed the supplies and posted to Facebook that I was getting rid of it all for free. One friend, a mom of three and a Girl Scout troupe leader, took a stack of the themed paper. Another friend who still scrapbooks on a regular basis with a group of ladies took the rest. So this week, I dropped off all the albums, page protectors, inserts and the remaining page kits to her.

It felt so good to remove those things from my house and my life. I didn’t realize how much power the physical release of items would have for me. I truly felt “lighter” as I drove away from the scrapbook stuff. … I did, however, keep some colored paper, stickers and letters because Sophie uses them for school projects. And I’ll do most anything to avoid a trip to the craft store.

And in a twist of fate (because I don’t believe in coincidences), the other day I randomly looked up my former friend, Monica, and realized she recently lost a family member. Without any expectation, I felt compelled to reach out to her and offer my condolences and say hello. She replied back and we’ve reconnected a bit this week; ironically, the week I let go of the scrapbook supplies.

I like to think that by physically releasing the hold those items had over me, I was able to make room for more mental and emotional growth and space. Giving that stuff away is not going to change who I was, or who I am. Those things don’t define me, just like the beautiful scrapbooks I made were not true depictions of my everyday life. They were just parts of my whole.

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