Hang with me here. I’m going to try and bring this all together. Also, in the interest of full disclosure…I love Jesus, but sometimes I swear.

The D-word. Divorce. I’ve done twice. The first time I did it because I was left with no choice. I never thought I’d do it again, but I did. It was horrible, horrible both times. The second time it was more of a choice, but a choice I agonized and prayed over for a long time.  Both times it simultaneously killed me and set me free. It killed my innocence, trust, dreams, hopes, and love. It also set me free from unhealthy behaviors, misinterpretations, dishonesty, danger, blame, shame, and hopelessness.

So even though things are a lot better in so many areas of my life, the residual effects are quite daunting, especially when it comes to my kids, and my own ability to trust and love. I’m at the point where I can look at most things in my life that are really hard as learning opportunities. But sometimes I feel sorry for myself. I just feel like I’m in a room that is slowly getting filled up with shit. It just keeps getting heaped on and I’m about up to my mouth in it, then up to my nose, and then I start to panic.

So you can imagine my delight with a story that was told the other week during a talk at my church. Apparently it’s an oldie but a goodie, though I’d never heard it before. The story went something like this.  

A psychiatrist was consulted regarding identical twins. The parents were told to give the pessimist a room filled with wonderful toys while the room for the optimist was filled with “fertilizer-and maybe a shovel-but that’s all”. The disparate reactions were recounted: 

One kid was slouched in a chair with a dejected look on his face. He hadn’t even removed the gift wrappings. “What’s the use?” he asked glumly, “I probably won’t like what I find-and if I do, I won’t get to keep it.”

A marked contrast greeted them in the other room. With a broad grin on his face, the optimist was shoveling for all he was worth. “With all this fertilizer,” he declared, “there’s got to be a pony somewhere.”

I laughed a little too loud for church when this story was told. I was thinking “man, I better find a frickin’ unicorn in this pile of shit”. And truly, there have been many glimpses of a shimmering, wonderous unicorn, but I know it’s going to take me a while to find it. I wish I could quit the work of digging, because I am really tired. I knew it was going to be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for the dailyness of it; the soul crushing daily weight of it all. And you carry it all alone. I mean, God is there, always, but you are alone. And there are just sooooooo many opportunities for learning about yourself. One after the other, after the other, after the other. Yes, I get it God. Thanks for the growth opportunities. Can’t we be done yet?!

So my kids and I were gifted with an amazing gift this last Christmas when Santa showed up with an all expense paid trip to Disneyland for all of us. I don’t know who did this and that always makes me nervous, you know, trust issues, but also so very grateful. There are so many truly kind and generous people in the world and thank heavens for them. They are needed to balance out the other kind of people. You would think that this would be just an amazing thing with no negatives, right? But, see,for me to enjoy this vacation I would have to battle so many hard things. Serious anxiety about traveling alone in big cities, worries about my job, and issues with my kids that would possibly make the trip difficult. So I just had to dig through that crap and do my best. 

But I did it and we made it and it wasn’t perfect but it was great. And, oh boy, those growth opportunities don’t stop even when you’re on vacation.

And here’s one growth opportunity that really took me by surprise.

I was sitting in the hotels nice, big hot tub trying to relax some of the tension out of my muscles after a long day. In trouped this family. They were all blond as could be, all wearing long shirts and long short for swimming, like really modest swimwear which is unusual for California, so they really stood out. And there we were, me and my United Nations poster child family and we really stand out. And these people, they could not stop looking. Not just glancing, but really staring. And I’m thinking, “hey, you never seen a black kid before? Yep, we’re different, get over it” and that sort of thing until I started to feel super judgy and superior towards them and the comments I was thinking became a certain sort of nasty that I try to keep out of my head at normal, non-frazzled times in my life. But these thoughts just kept coming and coming. It was not my finest moment. I probably would’ve recognized this as meaning there was a growth opportunity coming if I hadn’t been so tired from digging through crap.

Then they headed over to the hot tub. Great. Now they are sitting right next to me. My kids got up and went in to the pool and I was left alone with my self-righteousness and this family. What happened next happened really fast, but it didn’t feel fast. The parents turned towards each other to talk and the two younger girls, maybe 3 and 18 months,  walked on the sitting bench over to the area of the hot tub directly across from me.  They were playing around and then the 2 year old stepped off the bench area and went down into the middle of the hot tub. First I thought, surely she can swim or they wouldn’t just let her come over here without them, but she didn’t come up. Then I thought, surely her sister will reach out and grab her wrist, but she didn’t. Then I thought, surely her parents are watching and will see that she is struggling, but they weren’t. Then I wondered who could get there faster, me or them (did I mention it was a pretty big hot tub, because it was pretty big). Then I thought how she would cry if a stranger pulled her out of the water. And then it didn’t matter because it had been too long and she was in trouble, and I just stood up and yelled at the parents, “Hey, Hey!!! Your kid!” And the dad instantly launched out of the water, over to his daughter, grabbed her little hand and yanked her out of the water. It was really scary because she didn’t cry for a minute. And when I started to get up to grab my phone to call 911, he slapped her back and then the water came out and she started screaming. Have I ever been so glad to hear a kid screaming? No, I haven’t. Her mom wrapped her in a towel and immediately left and the dad went to the other side of the pool and I just sat back down in the hot tub, heart pounding, still feeling judgy. Why weren’t they watching her? What kind of parents were they?

But by the time I got out of the hot tub and wrapped myself in a some towels to dry off and watch my kids swim, I had calmed down enough to stop being judgy and start being grateful. I was really glad to be on this vacation with my kids. I was so grateful to whoever it was that gave it to us. I was grateful to have a new car that got us there safely (on one tank of gas, hello!). I was grateful to be in that hot tub right at that exact moment and watching this family so closely as I judged them that I would notice a drowning baby.

Right before I went up to my room, that dad came over and said to me in a very quiet voice, “Thank you for saving my daughters’ life.” And I said in a quiet voice, “You’re welcome”.  And what did it matter that they were staring at my kids’ skin color? And what did it matter that on my vacation I was still wound up as tight as a top from fighting my anxiety? And what did it matter that I keep having to shovel and shovel to find my unicorn? His baby was alive. I am alive. We have both been through things that could have killed us and we were still there.  And we just keep learning and growing. Learning how to swim, how to say thank you, how to dig through crap to find our ponies. Because there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere.