What’s The Surplus For?


Check out this shot from my ‘surplus years’, Visitors.

Chris and me black and white

This portrait was ten years ago. I was 42, and Chris was the picture of brawny health. A mere four years later, heartache of the most enormous magnitude would be forced on me. My kids would lose a terrific dad, the world lost a funny and talented teacher, and frankly, I would lose a pretty smooth life.

I traded it for scarred and resilient children. I traded it for working all the time with a high degree of focussed intensity, and I traded it for some hard won successes.  In recent years, my inner emotional ‘bank balance’ has been getting pretty hefty. EA is going swimmingly, my dad is OK and my kids are making terrific life choices. Life is good, and I rejoice in this stretch of peaceful sailing.

Lately, it seems a though my situation has been an ‘anguish attractor’. I can’t figure it out. For my Christian visitors, one might ask “What is God doing here?”.

Heartache of all sorts has rained down around me. A dear friend is divorcing an addicted and abusive wife, and asked for my help to rent out his house. Another dear,  close friend lost a relative to a freak accident. Another was just hospitalized for a heart  issue, third time this year. Another has a child who was just diagnosed with bone cancer, stage 3. Yet another has joined the absolute legion of folks my age getting rejected by their spouses and enduring a bitter divorce. All have come to me, seeking counsel from me or merely a listening, supportive ear. I am happy to do what I can.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Chris and I were steered to some wise, Biblically grounded budgeting advice by our pastor. The late Larry Burkett ran a wonderful ministry devoted to helping God’s people learn wise money management according to Scripture. Nearly thirty years later I am reaping what I sowed, and often have a budgetary surplus to share with folks who have less than me.

It occurs to me, Visitors, that surpluses, or ‘extra’ can take many forms. None of my wounded friends are asking me for money, this is Evergreen, after all. But did you ever notice, as time goes on, that the essence of loss is lack?

Ponder that one with me for a minute, Visitors. I lost Chris, the most heartwrenching life experience I’ve had to endure, thus far. In the years he’s been gone, I felt the lack of a friendly companion, a useful partner, a father to these kids, and warm feet under the covers.

The people around me are lacking. Lacking health, lacking loved ones, lacking direction. Our society answers that in curious ways. It frosts my cookies more than I can tell you to listen to the myriad of predators out there who promise the moon to hurting people. I see it with every single hurting situation around me, these days. Take this vacation! Buy these clothes! Eat this product! Use this cosmetic! Do these things and that lack in your soul will be filled! What nonsense.  Listening to these types tell my people that the holes in their souls can be filled by emptying their pocketbooks nearly incites me to violence.

(Perhaps you’ve noticed, Visitors, one thing I lack is tactful diplomacy. My people can’t take this sort of directness. )

See, Visitors, I lost the burning desire to ‘be right’ a long time ago. What drives me now is the desire to be useful. Evergreen Academy is a great example of this. I get the privilege of guiding new parents every day in my job. Most of my clients are self-directed and accomplished, and most are self-aware enough to face their cluelessness head on (My clients are pretty endearing). New parents are easy enough to guide, usually they’re a pretty open bunch.

The newly grieved, though, are an entirely different matter.  The haze of grief is often impenetrable, and is often perceived as permanent. How to be useful to the ones that end up weeping on my shoulder, or slogging through a seemingly endless grief-stricken marsh, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings?

Christian and non- Christian visitors alike, I think the answer to this is found somewhere in the idea of community. Someone I respect once told me that ‘just showing up’ is critical to the meeting of any need. Reaching out in the real and digital domains, a simple “Are you ok? Just checking up on you” enhances the idea that we are not alone, there is a long chain of hands pulling even the saddest of us back from the brink.

I have a surplus of emotional energy now. I’m sure someday that will change, but in the mean time, I’m giving it away. It helps my little community around me, and honestly, it’s the least I can do.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

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Divorced Baby Boomer Men and Later Life Marriage- Take Heart!


So, I had the most charming news a few weeks ago. A very good friend of mine, we’ll call her “Sarah” got married! Sarah was a widow, and her boyfried “Siegfried” (a stout man of German extraction) was a widower. We lost our spouses about the same time, and Sarah vowed she would never marry again.

“I just miss Mitch too much.” (Sarah was like me, married for decades.)

“I can’t imagine ever being a wife to anyone else but Mitch!”

Siegfried was actually a friend of Sarah and Mitch’s for years, they went to church together, and had children about the same age. Siegfried and Sarah lost their spouses within a year of each other.

Sarah grieved Mitch, and after a couple of years, I began to notice Siegfried popping up more and more in conversation. Soon, they began to enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis, and Siegfried began to appear with Sarah at various functions. I would nosily question Sarah about Siegfried, and she’d timidly laugh, and say what a sweet man Siegfried was, and how much fun they had together.

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I was delighted for Sarah.

Grief is hard, but so is marriage. Baby Boomer Men, check out the stock picture I found above. Most of you are grey foxes like the model, or on your way there. The chick reminds me a little of myself, agewise.

Remember the satisfying times? Remember why you married in the first place? Remember the times you laughed so hard together your abs hurt? Remember the trips, the new experiences shared, mutual support given?

It’s possible to go to that place again. Maybe it looks different than the first time around, but it can be just as satisfying, just as uplifting, and just as much darn fun.

Just ask Siegfried and Sarah.

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(Newlyweds Siegfried and Sarah, 81 and 82, respectively.)

Much love,

Victoria

On Weddings and Victoria’s Garden


Here’s a picture of a good friend of mine.

Rose was a beautiful baby!

Rose was a beautiful baby!

I knew Rose shortly after she was born. She came in this dress to my wedding, staged right here in 1987.

Happy Anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.


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Twenty seven years ago today, I :

*Was very young. 23 seems a lot younger now than it did then.

*Was twelve pounds lighter and had great knees! It’s amazing the noise they make now.

*Decided that life with Chris Lierheimer was better than life without him.

*Thought that all an abused man needed was the Holy Spirit and the love of a good woman. (There’s a book about naivete in there somewhere. )

*Was lighthearted. Thought PTSD was a designer disease for slacker soldiers.

*Thought a lot less than I do now. Pretty much accepted what my conservative Baptist upbringing gave me, word for word.

*Thought about ‘terminal’ in terms of trains and airports.

*Was exceedingly self-absorbed. The world was my oyster, and I was going to make a difference.

*Had no idea what an ‘intact family’ was. Didn’t everyone have one? What’s up with making a special name for what’s normal?

Now, twenty seven years later, on this day, I:

* Am 50. That seems so substantial. My peers are busy getting their minds blown about teetering on the brink of old age, and I don’t have time for that. As far as I’m concerned, 50 is High Noon, so let’s get busy!

*Weigh in at around a buck forty instead of a buck thirty. Guess what? I’m never going to stand on a pointe shoe again, and good for the 23 year old Victoria who could. My body has mothered four children, seen a good man to his grave, held the hands of dying men and women, and kissed my own mother goodbye. I’m delighted with this ‘car’ God gave me to drive around while I’m here, in spite of the fact I have to take in for repairs more often. I can swim, run around, hike, ballroom dance, turn the heads of the middle aged man set, (and a few women) -In short, this body rocks.

*Still think that life with Chris Lierheimer was better with him, than without him. It would be now. I’m sitting on the porch of our lovely little family cottage in Upstate New York, watching the herons and loons go by. Having kids is great to share these things with, but having him would be better.

* Realize that paternal abuse is about one of the most heinous things someone can do to a child. Chris needed years of therapy before marriage, and certainly before children. Had his mother addressed this instead of denying it, many of our bumps would have been diminished.

*Carry a lot more weight around. Chris’s death was the most traumatic event I have ever endured, and the fallout from PTSD lasts. More on that later.

*Realize the kind of Baptist upbringing that I had was a genuine mixed bag. The youth leader was a charismatic high school teacher who actually believed that Catholics likely weren’t Christians because they worshipped saints. All the ‘cool’ kids went to youth group, and chubby stutterers like me were relegated to the outskirts. On the other hand, we hand a constant, steady stream of solid grounding in the Scripture, and for that I am grateful.

*Shudder less at the word ‘terminal’. My good friend Clare Flourish (clareflourish.wordpress.com) unwittingly gave me a piece of life-changing wisdom a few columns ago. We were trading experiences about seeing our fathers age, and in her case, die. She told me that she had, rather than a sense of ‘a life lost’, ‘a life completed’, at the loss of her dad. I believe that we were created not to die, but to live with God and enjoy Him forever. Clare’s words gave me a vision of my dad finishing the work he was to do, and getting off at his terminal. He’s going to be with his father, and his Heavenly father. This is a good thing. Thank you, Clare Flourish.

*Am a great deal less self-absorbed. Thank God. Had I no children, no husband, no divorced, agnostic, Jewish, Buddhist, doubting, gay, transexual, young, elderly or otherwise different friends, I’d be a crashing boor. I shudder at the thought.

*Mourn the loss of my intact family. There is simply no getting around that. My dear friend Bird Martin (everyonehasastory.me) once observed  …wouldn’t we want our loved ones to keep a little token of us in their hearts should the roles have been reversed?…Chris will have left behind a little legacy in that you will be little more empathetic for others who are going through the same thing. Don’t fight it in those sad moments when you think of him. Embrace the fact that he deserved to have someone grieve for him  here on earth.”  

I find this to be true. And as I said a few days ago, some pain demands to be felt. But my family is not intact and I wonder where the fractures will end. God is the Great Physician, to be sure, but we do not know His plans.

Even so, life is good. On this, my twenty-seventh anniversary, my children and I raise a glass of peach wine to that marriage day long ago. Happy anniversary, Chris Lierheimer.

Much love,

 

Victoria

Missing Mom


Hello, fellow Visitors, it is a pleasure to meet with you.  images-8

Funny, in the midst of great blessings, how easy it is to slip into melancholy. Springtime is finally here in Colorado, the meadows are green, and nothing is burning.

Coloradans, do you remember the date of the first fire last year? March 26! One of my staff members had the fire advance to within half a mile of her home, and several clients had their life’s possessions reduced to dust. Thank God we seem to be retreating from that today.

This time last year for me was simply crushing. Business issues abounded, children were choosing colleges, and Carolyn Jordan Newkirk had been gone for nearly four months. images-10

Since then, life has been on a wonderful upward track. Learning to be single has been a remarkable struggle, but I have made some lasting friends in spite of the pitfalls and setbacks.

My counselor has been a great help, especially during the issues with fledgling children. It’s funny, people generalize and judge with the ease of a fingersnap. I’ve been an active parent since my children were laid in my arms, it’s a wonderful occupation.

When issues come up, like Abi leaving for Georgia in the fall, I get “Oh! You must be so saaaad! She’s moving so far away!”

Actually, I am sad. But not for that reason at all. I’m thrilled that Abi has matured enough to consider making such a gigantic move. She belonged at SCAD last year, truly. What makes me sad, is that I can’t walk next door, barge in, holler “MOM!” and word-dump all of this wonderful news into a person who would be genuinely glad to see me. images-11

She’d squint across the table,stand up in her walker, offer me food, tell me to make her some tea in her uniquely crabby way, and command me to tell her all about it. An hour would go by, and she say something like “I’m so proud of that kid. You and Chris really raised her well. ”

I’d give her a hug, and bounce out of the house, back to work. I miss my mom.

Visitors, many of you have taken the time to be gracious to me and tell me of your own experiences with your mothers. Unfortunately, not all have been good. And for that, my heart goes out to you.

Most of you though, have mothers who have done the best they could, and you’re grateful. T.L., thanks for sharing with me about losing your mom to ovarian cancer. A big, strapping man like you crying like a baby in the john makes me feel less isolated. You’re the best.

B. H., thank YOU for telling me about losing your mom when you were twenty. You’ve missed her for more than thirty years, yet your beautiful smile and lovely family reassure me that things will be OK.

K.L.? Thanks for sharing YOUR mom. She reminds me so much of mine, it’s a comfort every time I visit. Do you know last time when I left Eastman, she waved, smiled and said ‘Arrivederci’? ‘Until we meet again,” indeed!

A.R., thank YOU for tearing up with me every time we talk about moms. Seven years yours has been gone, but you’ve thrived, and grown as a woman of God.

Thank you, Visitors.  To walk into the lonely night alone is a terrible thing.   I greatly appreciate your company in these, the dark nights of the soul.

May I give you a piece of gentle advice? If you can, make peace with your mother. If you are at peace? Thank God, and think about the wonderful things you have. Skype, a card, a phone call, a chance to sit on the couch and chat. I’m thankful I had all those things for as long as I did.

Arrivederci, my friends, and bon soir.

Oh, sorry, serious post, but I just had to end with this. Mom would have loved it. Good night!

Oh, sorry, serious post, but I just had to end with this. Mom would have loved it. Good night!

Much love,

Victoria

The “Allure” of American Excess


“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”

This famous phrase is attributed to the  first century Roman poet Juvenal. In context, Juvenal is displaying his contempt for the slide of contemporary Romans into a culture of decadence, rather than historical political involvement. This could be interpreted as ‘the richer and more distracted the citizens feel, the less trouble they’ll cause.’

This is utterly fascinating to me, as a single parent trying to guide these four kids into responsible adulthood.

Gaze upon this mountainous thing with me, for a moment-

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It's size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It’s size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

The craft next to it is a cruise ship from the “Princess” line, and we are docked side by side at Saint Thomas, USVI.

Really, it’s just sort of staggering, don’t you think?I find myself whistling “Down in the Valley” when I walk between ships when they are docked. I mean, I can barely see the sky.

This thing is so gigantic I’m mindful of things like BASE jumps and rappelling down mountainsides when I walk beside it.

So, a bit of history. When Chris and I started our parenting journey, we decided that we didn’t want our children to be happy, we wanted them to be good. Really “Happy” is such an first world notion. I don’t give a plugged nickel if my children are ‘happy’. Just the word is insipid and annoys me. Any parent with more than two brain cells to rub together can get that ‘happy’ is fleeting, and ‘good’ is forever. Why? “Happy” can change if I trip over a shoelace and break my wrist. (True story)

But “Good” lasts. “Good” takes risks. “Good” says to the hurting woman at the well, ‘Yes, you can have any extra that I don’t need. My children are fed and clothed, I have a surplus, it’s yours.’

“Good” looks at the destitute cancer victim and says “Of course, you can stay with me. Yes, you may use my things, and get whatever measure of peace you can find to rebuild some strength for this battle you are waging.”

“Good” says to the college student “Think! You have a magnificent brain! Weigh what your professors tell you, form your OWN thoughts and convictions, develop your OWN identity! You can do this. ”

“Good” looks at it’s children and says “Cause trouble. Don’t be distracted by bread and circuses. Stick up for the rights of those who have less power than you. Question your peers, don’t go with the affluent flow.”

So, what are we doing here? Really, it’s kind of hilarious. Here’s one reason: “Traveling Feet”

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

We took a day trip in Nassau to snorkel a spot called “Rainbow Reef.” There’s wild country under the surface of the waves, and these mountain children rarely see it.

Here’s another reason. You folks remember my brother selling his manuscript “The Old Man and the Harley ” to Thomas Nelson a couple of years back? (Go to Amazon and get it, it’s great. )

Tradition and identity. Riding Harleys is a wonderful part of John and Dad’s history. How cool to honor that like this?

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She's weary, and so are the others.

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She’s weary, and so are the others.

So here we are on this towering shrine to excess. The Allure is a techological marvel, It holds several thousand passengers, and over two thousand service personnel.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The service is impeccable, the food superb, the shows of the highest quality, and the staff seems to be either authentically friendly or extremely well trained.

Our first day was in Nassau, Bahamas. We chose to spend it largely on another boat, speeding out to a good local dive spot.

All of my kids are experienced divers, and have been snorkeling since about age 5, so this was nothing new. It’s funny, I could see them chomping to be let loose to explore the boundary waters, but they could see that would likely tick off the people who’s responsibility it was to keep them safe.

“Safe” is as much of an irritant to my kids as it is to me. I think it was Lucy who once asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion was ‘safe’ (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis) “Of course not. ” replied Mr. Beaver. “But Aslan is good.”

Exactly. If I can teach my kids, in the middle of all this opulence, that ‘safe’ is not the equivalent of ‘good’, I will have continued to succeed in my parenting.

On this trip so far,  I  continue to have undistracted talks with the self-directed young adults these kids are becoming. It’s a beautiful thing.

Yep, that's rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for the.

Yep, that’s rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for them. Coke for Ray, of course.

I think the best reason to be here has to do with identity formation. Now is a critical time for all these kids to figure out who they are. The death of Chris was a terrible blow to this process, and it’s a very real lack.

So I cast around mainly for time. When I am at home, the demands on my time are pretty big. My job, my sick dad, and Rachael being at home are my main time expenditures, and it’s OK. But, with four kids, it’s pretty much an odds game that someone is going to need some parental input, right this instant.

Running a family is definitely a two person job.

But it is what it is, and I run around finding as much undistracted time to pour into these kids as I can. It helps.

Here are some of the knotty problems to untangle:

Faith is a junior this quarter. Yes, she just graduated last May, but DU finally processed all her honors, AP and additional collegiate coursework. She also obtained a research fellowship with a doctoral student. Med school is screaming down the tracks.

Christopher is really into his construction management studies. Many of the major companies offer internships around the country. Take one in some other part of the US, or part of the globe, for six months or so?

Abi might transfer to Savannah or Manhattan next year. This kid is remarkable, but that’s a big step, and she’s nervous about being away from everything she knows.

Rachael is just taking these first steps, and is dealing with a culture at EHS that frowns upon accomplishment. How to help her without transmitting my own cynicism toward American public school?

If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. This is a ton of work. If you’re my friend, buy me a Starbucks. 🙂

If you’re a single parent, shoot me back some advice, as soon as you can. I could use it!

Saint Maarten tomorrow!

Much love,

Victoria

 

Dear Diary- My Heart is a Traitor Bastard


I lifted that line directly from a Bird Martin essay at everyonehasastory.me. Go check it out, Bird is awesome.

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

So, I try really hard not to burden you people with angst-ridden, obsessive stories that cloud my judgement from time to time. But here it is , midnight on the day before I am to board a beautiful cruise boat with my four adorable, hilarious kids, and I am stewing over a petty rejection.

I have things to do, like printing out cruise boarding documents, and fleshing out a series of really cool essays I’d like to bring to you folks as we go along this trip.

I guess I would call this a “Piano Man” moment, you know the song where Billy Joel goes on about how stuck he is in a bar, where people put bread in his jar, and say “Man, what are you doing here?” This is utterly ridiculous, so here goes.

You folks know that I am still going to this older singles group at Mission Hills Church in Denver. I very nearly blew it off, as some of the relationships there were simply disguised napalm. But the silver lining was that I learned, as a single woman, how to handle destructive people in my life, and I did it without that benefit of a spouse. When I look back on it, that’s actually pretty cool. Mel Curtis, esteemed life coach, reminds me of how far I’ve come in my judgement since then. Josh, the pastor at the church, reminds me not to lie to myself. Here’s the lie “My judgement about new friends is simply terrible, I will never be able to make new friends as a single woman.”

Here’s the truth “I made mistakes in judgement. I have the Spirit of God to help me make better choices next time.” And then to write down the number of times since I’ve come to Mission Hills that my judgement has been pretty good, and I’ve made some pretty heartfelt friends.

Even then, that’s not entirely spot on. Another silver lining there is that I have learned that people who are older singles are generally that way for a reason. We have a hell of a lot of baggage to deal with. Every single one of us. The two mistakes I made were with people who were really, really good actors, and who denied any sort of baggage at all. MONSTER red flag for next time, and actually, when framed like that, I’m authentically grateful for the experience.

As I continue making new friends, I can look more clearly at their behavior, and ask myself “Are they acting like they have the world by the tail? Everything is fabulous? Think twice, Victoria. If that’s the case, why are they estranged from their parents? Why do they have no contact with their kids? Why do they have rocky relationships with other people? Hmmm…..”

Chris and I used to talk this stuff over into the wee hours of the night, and I can hardly tell you how much I miss that. He was a very relational person, and figuring out relationships with him was like breathing.

So anyway, back to the Meetup. I post a very friendly, generic greeting to a woman that I noticed had an interest in long-distance bike riding. I make a comment about her posted training schedule for a local ride and inquire if I might join the group.

(We made our first epic ride during the Newkirk Circle of Eights. Thirteen years ago we did Ride the Rockies, a remarkable seven day trek held annually over the wild territory of Colorado. My brother John was 38, my dad had turned 80, and Christopher had turned 8. I was thirty four,so no biggie there. It remains an awesome piece of family riding lore)

So, this woman, we’ll call Peg, took down the post, removed my comment, and didn’t care to reply. I discover, of course, that she’s friends with my mistakes at the meetup. Naturally.

AND what’s worse, that I give the situation any of my attention at all. Enough.

So, with that said, I’d like to tell all of you how much I prize your friendship. This teeny weeny little blog has blossomed into something really cool over the past year or so.

I would like to think that when we visit, I’m chatting with an audience of widows, widowers, people in the middle of loss, or simply isolated folks who wonder where the light is at the end of the tunnel.

I know that bunches of you are simply decent people. People who wonder what it’s like to walk in the other gal’s moccasins, and who stop by here to see what an accomplished, lonely, blessed, bereft, joyful widow looks like.

It’s a privilege to me to share with you the truths I stumble over. Things like there actually is a God who loves us and knows us pretty darn well. Truths that it’s pretty rough out there. Truths that even in the rough spots, life can be pretty damn good.

That said, join me tomorrow as my kids and I board Royal Caribbean’s “Allure”, the biggest cruise ship on the planet.

American excess always holds a great deal of humor for me, some light, and some dark. The “Allure” is a first world joke, from my point of view. It’s size is only exceeded by one single oil tanker, and an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific.

Manufactured adventure like this is generally not my first choice.  Brainless twit that I am, when my three college kids trained the “Mommy Guilt Rays” on me, I’m embarrassed to say I caved.

“Mom! We all have the same Spring Break! How often is that going to happen! We should do something really fun, like a cruise!”

Sigh, the little stinkers. So yes, I caved, and off we go the islands.

I love you all,  and appreciate you listening. Cruise documents are almost done, dreamland, here I come.

Sleep well, friends.

Much love,

Victoria