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My Valentine Do Over

Valentines Day was Tim’s favorite holiday. I never understood it. But, on this day, it wasn’t uncommon for me to get fine jewelry, flowers delivered to my work, and a romantic dinner at a fine restaurant. Not once in our 38 years, do I think he missed celebrating this most romantic day.

Then a few months later, he’d completely forget my birthday. Leaving me sobbing for hours.

His response, “I’m sorry honey, I forgot. I thought about it last week, then I just forgot.”

I used to think he remembered Valentine’s because the holiday is so heavily advertised. But then, he seldom gave Christmas or Easter the same respect as this day set-aside for lovers.

casablancaIn retrospect, I have to admit, the man was a hopeless romantic. It wasn’t uncommon for me to come home and find him glued to a Turner Classic movie. (Really – how many guys count Casablanca as their favorite?) When I’d ask what he was watching, he’d shush me and say, “I don’t know the name, but she’s in love with that guy, but he doesn’t love her…” A clear sign he’d seen the film before.

When it came to romance, the tomboy in me came out. Not that I didn’t believe in love, I just didn’t believe in fairy tales. Or happily ever afters. Love to me has always been hard work.

But…if I could have a do over, I’d change a few things.

  • I’d watch those movies with him. Then I’d ask him what it was he liked so much about them. Something about them resonated with him, and I never found out what.
  • I’d put more emphasis on what he did on February 14th, and less on what he failed to do on my birthday, or Christmas, or any other holiday.
  • I would make February 14th the biggest day of our year. In other words, I’d join him in making it a banner celebration of us.
  • A week before my birthday, I’d give him a list of things I’d like him to buy for me. On top, in huge letters, I’d write: “MY BIRTHDAY’S NEXT WEEK!” And I’d accept it graciously if the reminder only generated a card and some cash.Tim and Ellen

Too often, our expectations set us up for failure. And even if what we get is good, it seems small compared to what we had in mind.

So, if your Valentines Day fell short, I encourage you to reevaluate your mate within the scope of his or her entire life. Make a pro and con list if you must. Just don’t hold them to a standard you set that only fits into a small slice, of one day, of this big time frame we call life.

If I had it to do over again, that’s exactly what I would do.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Do You Bootcamp?

Not fully understanding what I’d gotten myself into, I took a baby step and signed up for six weeks of the Lake Nona Bootcamp. A few days later I stood in line with a slew of slim and trim young people to get weighed and measured. Lauren, our fearless leader was upbeat and encouraging. But I already felt I was in over my head.IMG_2997

On the first day, a handsome young man took me aside for an “assessment.” He was kind as I struggled to hold my overweight body in a plank. I felt my shoulders would explode as I attempted to pump out a few push-ups. As his stopwatch ticked off a minute, I attempted to do as many squats as possible. Sweat dripped down my forehead as he wrote my measly accomplishments on a sheet of paper.

Finally, I joined the rest of the group for the remainder of the work out. All the while thinking, I might as well just give up. At 58 years old, my life is over. The best I can do is park myself in a chair and wait to die.

At the end of the workout, the instructor congratulated us on our performance. All the way home, I swallowed hard to keep the vomit for entering my mouth. My face burned.

As soon as I opened my door, I ran for the bathroom and emptied my stomach. As I washed my hands, I stared at my flaming red face and stringy, soaking wet hair.

Then I sat in a chair and cried.

After a few minutes, I dried my tears and filled a couple ziplock bags with ice. Balancing them on my aching knees, I thought, what could it hurt? It’s only an hour twice a week for six weeks. I’ll just do what I can.

Two days later, I unrolled my mat and took my place with the other campers. A young girl, a third my age, turned and said, “We all took bets you wouldn’t come back.”

“Oh honey,” I responded. “I can do anything for an hour.”

But I seriously had my doubts.

Then, I did it all over again. Even the throwing up, crying, and icing part.

IMG_3911For the next year, a lot of ice melted over my knees as I gained strength. Then one day, I ran a whole mile. And when I came across that finish line, it felt like I’d just won the Boston Marathon.

Sometimes, victories are bigger than they appear.

Now when the instructor assigns us 100 squats, I think – piece of cake. And to that first mile run, I’ve added two 5K’s and I’m signed up for two more.

But the biggest win is inside of me. It’s knowing I can still face new challenges that not only test the boundaries of my body, but my soul as well.

Because all determination starts between our ears. Before our feet ever hit the pavement, our minds must decide to go.

So what are your challenges today? What’s the baby step you need to take?

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We Just Don’t Know

Tim and Ellen Gee 1998Coming up on the third anniversary of Tim’s death, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on our life together. Most of it wondering how in the world we managed to stay married for all those years. And how, in spite of our recklessness, we raised two kids, who from an early age wanted nothing more then to get married, have kids, and grow old. All with the same person.

Several months ago, I had my first relationship post Tim. And the fall out of that experience oddly shed some light on my marriage.

With all the best intentions, I tried to accept this guy for who he was, hoping in turn; he’d see the whole of me. But my intense passion proved too much, and he ran for the hills. And the pain of that loss shattered me. And I instantly began to question my own self worth.

In my despair, I remembered certain images of Tim. How he tried not to laugh as I’d go on a rage. How his eyebrows arched as I ranted about a wound I’d suffered from a friend. How, sometimes for hours, he’d sit silently taking all the blows. Letting me get it all out of my system.Tim1998

Tim was the shield that helped me corral the words spinning in my head. He allowed me to try them out in order to rein them in. And no matter how often I bounced them off him, he never gave up on us. Even when he was the intended target.

But this week I realized, I need a new shield. A buffer between the people I love and my untamed thoughts. That the gift of words God has given me has a wicked side. And most of what I think, should never leave my mouth unedited.

So in one of those quiet times of reflection, I clearly felt the nudge of God. And in that nudging I heard Him say, “That’s why I gave you the gift of writing.”

And for the first time, I saw my writing as a present wrapped up just for me. And not something that always has to be shared. A gift to help me manage this big personality He gave me. And how the empty page must now become the shield Tim once held up for me.

It’s true, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone. And in the thick of my marriage, I never fully understood all the ways Tim and I fit together. But God did. And that mystery is now being revealed to me.

I’m grateful that even when I’m not paying attention, God is orchestrating my life. And in that orchestration He always gives me His very best.

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Maybe It’s HIS Hardest Time of Year

First Christmas Tree

Our first Christmas tree

Last week, due to circumstances beyond my control, I spent my first holiday without any family.

To get ahead of the pain, I sought wisdom from a friend who, due to her work, often spends holidays without hers. Even though she assured me she’s used to it, I could feel the hurt. The yearning for things to be different.

During the holidays, it’s difficult to not feel the loss of a shattered family. Be it death, divorce, or simply logistics, everything seems to point out our brokenness.

For years I ran myself ragged pursuing Hallmark worthy holidays. I stuffed Easter baskets, hung rows and rows of garland, I woke early to baste many a turkey. All the while feeling privileged to have my family intact. Blessed to live in a home that when decorated, could shine. Surely, I convinced myself, God was pleased with the life I’d built.

At the same time, the last thing I ever wanted to think about were the folks waking up the same way I did this Thanksgiving.

Christmas Tree

How our trees evolved

Now, I’m grateful for friends that would never leave me alone on a holiday. That reach out and embrace me like one of their own. Who go out of their way to make sure I fit in. But it’s never the same as your own family.

These past few days, I’ve thought a lot about the popular worship song, Hosanna. How in churches all across the world, we Christians love to raise our hands, and with tears in our eyes sing:

Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom’s cause

But, I wonder if I’ve ever fully grasped how God would answer such a request. And perhaps this Thanksgiving might just be it.

So, this Christmas, as I remind myself that, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” I’ll also consider this:

Maybe, these holidays are the hardest time of the year for Him.

Burdens are Meant to be Shared

He sat across from me in a leather chair. His legal pad balanced on his crossed knee. As I spoke, he took notes. His pencil making that light scratching noise as it scraped across the page.

I’d never been to a therapist before, but I knew I needed one. So there I sat, running down the list of my thirty some years. My father’s death, my teenage pregnancy, my troubled marriage.

When I finally stopped, Tom lifted his pencil, looked at me and said,

“Wow Ellen, that’s a lot. And it’s a good thing you’re here. You’re at that age when the tools you used to survive your childhood no longer work. Now you have a choice. You can cut off the pain, or you can choose to feel it. But I must warn you, if you cut out the bad, you’ll also cut out the good. You can’t cut at one end without cutting at the other. If you don’t feel the bad, you won’t feel the good either.”

Without taking his eyes off me, he paused and let his words settle in.

Super Gift from HeavenI sat silently for several seconds pondering my decision.

All my life, I’d been in pursuit of joy. I relished the simplest pleasures – My children performing in a school play. Overhearing our young daughter read her little brother a book, using the same inflections as me. Seeing my children curled up on either side of their father, watching TV. The hours of laughter at the dinner table.

And what about all those unexpected moments? The ones that catch you off guard, that years later, still send warmth through you.

A chill came over me at the thought of missing those tender moments.

“Well then,” I responded. “I’ll just have to feel the bad because I want it all.”Kelly, Chris, and Daniel

Now, twenty some years later, I better understand my therapists wisdom. I see how easy it is to build walls around our hearts to shield us from the pain of sometimes our own bad decisions. And how that padding can become a large barrier between us and those we love.

I’m not sure I’ll ever understand the purpose of pain. But I know I must feel it. Not just mine but yours as well. I know intrinsically, it’s the narrow path to a rich life. One that’s lived in spite of its circumstances.

So as we begin this holy season, I encourage you to pick up someone else’s burden. Maybe you need to make a donation, or participate in an act of service. Maybe you need to just spend time with a friend. Whatever it is, I challenge you to hold it, and feel it.

Then when you kneel at the manger, share it with Him. He’ll be glad to help you carry it.

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