I love surprises. I say that, but I guess it depends on what the surprise is. When I was young I naively believed that any surprise was a good surprise but that’s not necessarily true. A surprise is an unexpected or astonishing event. I like the astonishing part, not so sure about the unexpected part.
Here are some examples of surprises, bad and good:
I was surprised by my heating bill (bad).
My FH (former husband) and friends surprised me with a party on my 30th birthday (so fun).
My kids surprised me by doing the dishes while I was gone (yay).
But sometimes surprises are shocking, and I suspect we will all deal with these kinds of surprises in our lifetimes. They are like a sucker-punch to the stomach and nothing can really prepare us for them.
I remember the day my FH and I talked about divorce. After a long discussion and many tears, I wandered outside and walked up my driveway into the cul-de-sac. I was crying uncontrollably (probably quite a show for my neighbors) and really didn’t know where to go or what to do. I eventually came back inside and my FH was in bed. I climbed in my side and moved as close to the edge as I could while I tried to quiet myself. My paradigm had completely shifted and I remember feeling like I was sleeping with a stranger; it was excruciatingly uncomfortable and I was stiff and on high alert.
I’m not sure I can fully explain the awkwardness I experienced during the brief time after that night but at some point I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my FH to move his things out of the master bedroom. He moved some clothes and personal items from our closet into the guest room (he was already sleeping there), but would still come in to shower and get ready or to grab a few things. It felt strange to watch him going through the normal routine, knowing things had changed so drastically, so I asked if he could clear everything out and not come into the room anymore. That was so painful to say but I understood that I needed a place where I could retreat and feel safe from the extreme discomfort of our environment. All of this was so new, and quite honestly my actions and requests were a surprise to me.
Because, you see, I had never been in this place before. Nor was I prepared.
And then we had to surprise our kids with the most shocking news of their lives. Just a few months earlier Luke had mentioned that he hoped we would never tell him we were divorcing. (He was in middle school, he was seeing some of his friends’ parents go through it.) It killed me to think about having to have that conversation with him. And then there was Jake. Our precious little guy.
On July 13, 2013, we sat them down together and shared what was going on. Jake asked questions like, “When is dad moving out?” And “Will he be gone forever?” He put his head in his lap and cried. Luke was slower to ask questions…both asked if it could be temporary and if we could just try it out for awhile. It broke my heart to hear our boys pleading for a better deal.
Shortly after our talk Jake was staying with my parents and asked my mom, “Did you know my family is getting a divorce?” And then he said, “We just don’t know if it’s permanent or not.” A few days later he asked me if my family got divorced when I was a kid. I think it’s interesting that he looked at this as a family break-up, because that’s exactly what it was.
Luke (a tween at the time) was more pragmatic about things. Shortly after meeting with the boys to tell them we were divorcing, he and I were talking about school breaks and what the schedule would look like. He said to me, “This is your and dad’s problem, not mine.” I LOVE that he said that—so true. We are the adults and we need to fully own our stuff. He did mention that we could solve the problem by not going through with the divorce. Out of the mouths of babes…
In the past two weeks I heard from two different friends whose marriages took a sudden and surprising turn. After 20+ years of being married, both of these women discovered their husbands were having affairs and neither were willing to give up the other woman. Jake and I were watching a show the other day and one of the characters flippantly mentioned that someone was having an affair. Unfortunately it’s part of our society today and I always tell my boys, “These are the times we live in. You have to guard and protect your heart at all costs. You have to go out of your way to stay out of the way of sin.” It is truly all around us.
So how do we respond when a shocking surprise comes our way? Here are my thoughts.
- Breathe. I know it sounds simple and redundant but the night that I walked up to my cul-de-sac (barely able to think), I took in deep breaths. I pictured myself down the road in a much different place. I said out loud, “You’re going to be okay.” Sometimes our circumstances have a showdown with our souls. May our souls always win those confrontations.
- Try to function. What does it take for us to make it through a day? In the face of a shocking surprise we need to identify a few things we need to do to continue functioning. Here was my list: Time with Jesus, a comforting cup of chai, and an organized/segmented schedule where I allowed time for pain and processing, time for feeling sorry for myself (pathetic but oh so needed), and time to “grow.” Growing to me meant things like going to counseling, enjoying a conversation with an encouraging friend, or reading something that lifted my spirits. I also found growth in writing.
- Feel. I talk about this one a lot but I really let myself absorb and process EVERY feeling and emotion. I had stuffed my feelings for so long that I had to learn how to find them and what to do with them! I learned to really dissect them and how to understand what they meant and how they affected me. I will write more about this sometime, it is such a worthy topic.
- Draw boundaries. Where do we feel exposed? Where do we feel vulnerable? It’s okay to assess our weak areas and come up with a plan. For me, I had to ask my FH to give me a sacred space. After he moved out of our home, I also asked that he not enter my house if I wasn’t there. He has fully honored these boundaries which has given us momentum in the right direction. It is possible to set parameters with kindness, and it’s far better to set them in advance as precaution rather than later as protection.
- Dream. Things won’t always be like this, there are brighter days ahead! Until then, we need to focus on recognizing shining moments. We’ll embrace them. And we’ll look forward to growth and healing through the survival techniques mentioned above. God gives us the gift of hope…hope is expectation and desire for something to happen. I love the word “expectation” because it assumes that we will be different in the future. And by the grace of God, we will be!
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.