My Mulligan Story

My Mulligan Story

“I’m stronger because I had to be, I’m smarter because of my mistakes, happier because of sadness I’ve known, and now wiser because I learned.” -Unknown

4 Minute Read

If you’re a golfer, you’re familiar with the term mulligan. It’s an unofficial chance to replay a bad shot. Sometimes, all it takes is a fairly easy chip-shot to put you back in play, but for some of us… it takes more effort, patience and perseverance than we ever thought possible. 

This, my friends, is My Mulligan Story.

When I met my ex-husband in my early twenties, I knew marrying him meant I’d eventually move 5,000 miles across the Pacific. I’d always been an adventurous spirit, and Asia, in particular, fascinated me. 

It was all so new and exciting in the beginning. I fell in love with my adopted country’s customs, history, food, and most importantly, the people. I still have a deep affection for the Asian culture.

However, as the years went by our different cultural expectations surrounding marriage began to clash. While I thought of us as a partnership, my husband had very different views, and his family’s interference in our lives began to take a toll on me.

I’d been warned before we married “that I would always be an outsider” but I thought after my daughter and son were born, things would be different. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Even worse, over the years, my husband had become more verbally, and at times, physically abusive. I think I went into shock the first time he berated me, let alone hit me; I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I was too educated, too independent, and too worldly to be in an abusive marriage, yet here I was. 

Growing up, I naively viewed divorce as a failure, so I made a vow to myself to stay with him for my children’s sakeRegrettably, I remained in an unhappy and harmful marriage for years, even as the abuse escalated in frequency and magnitude.

I finally made the difficult decision to seek a divorce. I did not want my children to think it was normal for a man to throw insults or hit a woman… ever!

So, in the spring of 2008, I secretly returned to the United States with two suitcases, and my two most valuable possessions-my children

I’d spent twenty years immersing myself in the Asian culture, raising my children and creating a career I loved, all which had afforded us prestige and wealth. This country had become our home. With no good-byes to anyone…I left it all behind.

I knew it was going to be difficult, but I had no idea just how much...

Two days after arriving in the United States, my mother, my only living parent, passed away. I hadn’t even unpacked or found a suitable place for us to live; I was devastated.

Grief overwhelmed me, as I was still heartbroken over my 31-year old nephew dying unexpectedly a week earlier. All this, in addition to having recently lost my brother to pneumonia. Losing three close family members within six weeks was almost unbearable.

The loss continued to mount as I discovered my investments were half of what they were just a few months before we’d left Asia. It was 2008, and the world’s economy had gone into a free-fall, and my savings along with it.

The best option was to move into a trailer on my sister’s property for eighteen months until I was financially stable enough to move us out on our own; I was humbled to my core.

In just a few months, I’d lost treasured family members, a host country I’d grown to love, my life-savings and my beautiful home.  If it had not been for my kids, I may not have gotten out of bed for months. 

My children’s zest for life kept me going, as they needed me more than ever. They needed me to help them learn English, to navigate the American school system, and to adjust to new customs on this side of the Pacific.

The first several years were filled with angst. As a single parent, I worked a part-time job, attended graduate school to earn my teaching degree, and engaged in a never-ending, bitter divorce.  After two years of paying lawyers on both sides of the Pacific, I was emotionally and financially drained.

When you hit rock bottom, the only positive aspect is life can only go up, and it finally did…

I landed a full-time teaching position three years after arriving in the States, and we were finally able to move into our own apartment. We were genuinely happy for the first time in years.

In a relatively short amount of time, I had created a beautiful life with a rewarding new job, great friends, and of course, my children. My life was full.

My children were amazingly resilient through it all, and were now busy with school activities and going out with their friends on weekends. So much so, I often found myself, alone, on the couch playing online Bingo. 

My daughter, however, had a different view of my cozy-couch-life…

One Friday night as she was getting ready to go out with friends, and I was relaxing on the couch completing a small kite in Bingo, she announced, “Mom, it’s time to get life.” Translation: You should start dating.

I could not think of anything more dreadful. In fact, I’d already decided I would never marry again, and I definitely didn’t need a man to complete me.

Around the same time, a friend kept trying to set me up on blind dates. I didn’t think I had the time, energy, or desire to date, but my girlfriend was relentless.

So on one unusually warm spring day, I accepted her invitation to what I thought was a girl’s get-together, and surprisingly found myself sandwiched between my girlfriend and her handsome friend at a collegiate sporting event. 

This was the first time I was fortunate enough to spend time with Robert, and I was shocked at how much I enjoyed his company.  He was goodlooking, easy to talk to, and had a wicked sense of humor. He was so fun to spend time with; I’d never felt so at ease.

Many more wonderful times followed as we discovered we shared many common interests, including our love for beer, sports, and travel.  Also, our views of the world and our place in it aligned.

With Robert, I laugh all the time.

My kids took to Robert right away and before we were even married, they started referring to him as their “step-dad.” He blended into our family, and definitely stepped-in when he was needed most. 

From the beginning, our relationship developed so naturally, with such mutual respect, that after five years together we decided to get married.

Robert is my mulligan, my do-over…my official chance to replay a bad shot. 

We were married on a glorious sunny day on a golf course overlooking the 18th-hole. We’d found our oasis in the desert outside Las Vegas, following what had been the most difficult period in my life. 

Robert has made me believe in love again and I couldn’t be happier.

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If you or anyone you know is being abused, we encourage you to seek help. The Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 is available 24/7/365 to be a confidential resource for you. https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

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Reinventing​ the Magic…

Reinventing​ the Magic…

The magic of Christmas. Children looking out the window in excitement
Christmas Day by Norman Rockwell
“I make no apologies for the fact that my love and heightened anticipation for the holidays is a little off the charts.”
–Stephanie Riley

4 Minute Read

You remember that spark, right? That magical energy…when the child within your soul completely believed in the magic of Christmas.

I’ve felt that thrill since childhood. My twin sister and I were the only children to our parents who were both only children-so we were lavished with love and attention from not only our parents, but all sets of grandparents. 

Early in our courtship, my husband, John, shared that Christmas was a big deal in his home too.

So when I unveiled my plans for the holidays, he gave me the green light to aspire to make our family the living representation of the nostalgic Norman Rockwell paintings you see depicting the joy of Christmas.

I’m not just being “P.C.” here, using the word “holidays.” I’m simply pointing out that from September/Harvest time on…through Halloween and Thanksgiving; it’s all just the Opening Act leading to the crescendo of Christmas. 

As soon as our children were old enough to understand, a “24-day Countdown Calendar” filled with all the activities one could think of was hung in our home.

Each day a different adventure: ice skating 90-miles away in a mall adorned with Christmas décor, baking cookies, and cutting down our own tree in the snowy foothills to name a few.

For years, I tried to capture these “perfect Norman Rockwell moments” in photographs, and quite often, even hit the mark. I have an enormous collection of treasured memories, capturing genuinely beautiful moments in our family’s life.

But, what you see in these Instagram-worthy photos are just snapshots of moments –there are literally thousands of pictures that didn’t even make the cut.

It’s been a work-in-progress over the years to accept that life doesn’t always fit into my expectations and carefully designed plans-as our holiday season very rarely resembles Norman Rockwell’s idyllic artwork.

Sometimes it’s not a white Christmas. (It’s only been one perhaps three times in my 47 years of life…)

Sometimes we get sick on Christmas.

Sometimes we suffer loss on Christmas.

Sometimes we fight on Christmas.

Sometimes we just don’t get what we want on Christmas.

And, all of those losses and disappointments mean I haven’t gotten what I’ve really wanted on Christmas – many, many times over.

But, still I hope…and over the years I’ve have tried to model to my children that just because one thing doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean “everything’s ruined”. 

My children are now 20 and almost 18. And while my son once insisted he’d NEVER want to give up on all the adventures the Countdown Calendar has taken us on over the years, this will be the year we drastically scale back.

My daughter is excited to share the magic with our best friend’s young daughter, and we’ll save some of my kid’s favorites for when our twenty-yearold comes home to stay with us for a few weeks in December.  

Years ago, I thought I’d be shedding tears at this conclusion; but it’s simply a beginning of a new chapter. I find myself excited to see my daughter sprinkling some magic of her own for our young friend. 

I’m finding the time and energy to be present and enjoy the moments as they come…instead of totally preoccupied with planning the next event.

As I embark on this new season, I’ve found myself conducting an inventory. A review of all the other “traditions” I’ve not only instituted, but expanded on each year. It’s had me asking:

Does this activity bring me personal joy – either in the act itself or the joy it would bring to others?

Is this activity causing more stress than good?  

Is this planned adventure adding value to our family, or… is it just one more thing keeping my husband and kids from experiencing the wonder of unexpected joy this season?

This last one is especially important as my husband lives for spontaneous fun, but the reality is that over the years- my capacity for anything spontaneous run completely empty.  

Whether it was from lack of energy, physical or social energy (I’m a natural introvert, so my reserves need to be overflowing to engage in anything spontaneous), all of the gallant efforts I make the last four months of the year deplete me from showing up for my husband in the way he’d appreciate most.  

Even more than no time for last minute fun, this packed schedule and hectic pace often brings irritability, rigidness and defensiveness…all of my “go-to behaviors” when I have no margin to pause and unwind. 

As I write this, I’m sure it hasn’t escaped notice, that striving for “magic” during a holiday that only exists because of a God-given MIRACLE, might be the problem in and of itself.  

This “magic” I ascribe to, has been fostered only to further the celebration of the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  

Truly, to us, it is not a “one or the other” but an expansion of the fullness of the joy of the season.  

Which leads me to the biggest reason to be Reinventing the Magic…to recognize what fills my family the fullest is to be living vessels of that miraculous joy.

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Weaving Two Lives Together

Weaving Two Lives Together

“In the tapestry of life, we are all connected.”- Unknown

Last weekend I flew from the lush Willamette Valley in Oregon to the arid desert of Tucson, Arizona to witness a longtime friend’s daughter marry her sweetheart.

The outdoor setting was spectacular: a white rose and eucalyptus draped arbor was nestled perfectly under the shade of a decades old Palo Verde, where twenty-two wedding attendants waited cheerfully to welcome the bride down the grassy green aisle on the proud arm of her father; there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

If that weren’t enough, the rocky Santa Catalina Mountain Range jetted up behind the bride and groom less than a mile from where we were seated to behold this blessed event; it was simply breathtaking.

As the wedding unfolded, even this gorgeous setting was eclipsed by the story their pastor told of all the close familial ties and friendships that have been woven together through the years making this celebration a reality.

Taking us back in time, the charismatic pastor told how as a 6th grader in a new school the bride’s father had befriended him and invited him to sit with his buddies in the cafeteria. 

None of these pubescent boys could’ve imagined the divine intervention taking place at that pint-sized table which ultimately led the father of the bride to meet his wife years later. 

Because it was the pastor who would eventually introduce a cute twenty-something co-worker to his childhood friend, from this union the bride was born.

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As the officiant continued to weave this rich tapestry of relationships, he noted it was only through these longstanding connections that the bride and groom would meet a few years ago in the Windy City, 2,000 miles away from this desert sanctuary.

Scattered amongst the vows and ceremonial traditions was the acknowledgment of all the friends of the bride and groom who have traveled far to support this couple. 

As he spoke on the importance of maintaining these ties, I couldn’t help but think of all the family, friends and the purely divine hand that had helped create and maintain my own marriage over the last twenty-seven years.

The pastor reminded all of us our lives crosses the lives of many others and most significantly it’s entwined with the lives of a special few, those friends and family members who will support and encourage us during the most challenging of times. 

Together, this young couple will begin to weave their own tapestry with a richness of history, familial ties, friendships, triumphs and of course some disappointments, which will only serve to enhance its splendor.

Things I Now Say Aloud

Things I Now Say Aloud

3 Minute Read

I sat there on the couch, my counselor across the coffee table from me. Her “office” didn’t feel like one. It felt more like my great aunt’s living room. Relaxed and inviting, warmly lit and messy. Imperfect

“Solace?” She trailed off…. she took a breath, a big one. I could see her shoulders lift heavily upward, as she prepared for her next words.

She was going to ask me what I knew the conversation had been leading up to, the question I’d been dodging and moving away from.

“Solace, do you love your husband?”

Boom. 

She knows me, I thought to myself. She knows everything. I’ve told her all of my struggles, in life, relationships: the thoughts deep within my soul.  I’d convinced myself over the years, that if anyone knew all she knew, I’d surely be unlovable. Like this room I sat in, I was messy and imperfect. I hated knowing that about myself.

I chuckled, “Of course!” 

“Why?”, she asked.

“He’s a great dad and provider. We share similar values and our faith. We have the same life goals. We’ve built a life together that’s remarkable!!” 

She wasn’t going to let me dodge any longer.

“Okay”, she said slowly, “you just outlined why you are compatible. You just told me you like the life you’ve built. But, do you love him?

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Mr. Solace travels two out of four weeks, on average, each month. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. But, he travels… a lot. 

During this same conversation, my counselor asked me if I miss him when he travels. Of course I did, I said emphatically. I miss his help: I carry the load alone when he is away. 

Again, she pegged me: but do you miss him. Did I still feel that ache I once felt early in our relationship, did I miss his presence, spending time with him: being around him?

I wasn’t sure. 

Did I? Or did I just miss his help at bath time, with the dishes, and taking the trash cans to the curb? Did I miss him and love him or did I just miss his help?

I struggled with these questions for a number of weeks. I wrestled with them. I wanted my heart to feel that tug again. 

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Through the process of being mindful within our marriage, we’ve also become intentional about our time as a family and the core relationships of our unit of four.

We’ve started saying “no” a lot more. As a result, we’ve made space within our family for relationships and activities that feed us, sharpen us and rebuild our foundation.

We are getting to know each other again. 

When Mr. Solace left recently for a two-week trip he said, “This last week has been remarkable. I’ve enjoyed you, the boys, our time together…

We’ve all been mentally and emotionally present and available. I think our work within ourselves individually is really starting to show…

By rebuilding our individual foundations and our marriage, I can see the fruits in our family relationships and our life.”

This was earth shattering. I was speechless, and my heart seemed to freeze in that moment, unable to beat. What Mr. Solace shared in this moment of vulnerability, from his heart, floored me. 

He was right. We were both more present and intentional. Mindful in our interactions. Protective of our time and the priority of our family. We stopped worrying about expectations of outside influences and instead started to focus inward.

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Weeks later, there I sat again, in the same warmly lit room. 

My counselor, in her chair, sipping hot tea. She asked the same question she always did, “So, what’s been going on with you?”

“Mr. Solace is traveling again; he left last Friday. So, you know, just the normal day to day routine, now.

Nothing major….”, I answered. “Well, actually….there was this one thing that happened.”

“Okay? Tell me about it…”

“Well, I went for a run on Saturday. Since Mr. Solace is traveling it was just me running and pushing the stroller. You know, zoning out.

Before Mr. Solace left we’d had a really amazing week as a family; we both agreed it felt rich and full. It was entirely about being together and enjoying each other.

I was just thinking about the week as I ran, and then I passed this couple pushing a stroller together.  They were talking, I think they were drinking coffee and just clearly taking the Saturday morning slowly, together. And…”

I trailed off. I knew it was coming. An unfamiliar feeling washed over me, tears welled up, my heart beat a little quicker, and my voice trembled.

“And….I missed him. I wished in that moment more than anything in the world that he had been there. With me. I missed him.” 

I cried. And as those hot tears rolled down my cheeks, my heart in a moment of pure joy, leapt.

I missed him. I loved him. I felt joy again….I felt the tug.

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Friends, marriage is work and it is ongoing. The process of rediscovering the love I have for my husband isn’t something I could calendar out, it’s not something that I add to a to-do list, or put on a timer. 

It’s happened as I’ve chosen to make my husband and our marriage a priority, a mindful and intentional priority.

I’ve decided to keep up the fight, to continue to persevere through the good and bad days. Remembering to stop and recognize the joy I feel in loving my spouse, and I can finally say it aloud.

I love you deeply Mr. Solace. Thank you for sticking with me.

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