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The Question Widows Answer All. The. Time.

 

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(I can’t knit mittens, but I love my grandboys more than anything.)

Someone sent me an article recently about how widows in America are perceived.  The author concluded that we are lumped into two categories and they are – hold onto your hats – Grandma or Vixen. The “grandmas” are those who decide to throw their energies into kids and grandkids and – oh, I don’t know – knitting mittens and baking cookies and other things that our tiny minds ascribe to excellent grandmothering.  They stop coloring their hair, stop fighting the wrinkles and embrace the wisdom and invisibility that comes with old age.  The “vixens” are those who  have decided it’s not too late for a second act.  They take singles cruises, shop dating sites, invest in botox and aren’t often invited over to couple’s homes for dinner (I’m not making that up – turns out widowers are included far more often in couples’ events, since the women planning the events are not threatened by them.) (I’m also not criticizing the article – it wasn’t bad or accusatory.)

 

 

I know. You’re shocked by that grossly oversimplified compartmentalizing of an entire group of women. I was too.  But the more I think about it, the more I believe that the heart of it is this: widowed women are generally perceived as either wanting to remarry or not wanting to remarry.  In spite of the fact that the institution of marriage has taken a beating in the last few decades, it’s still a central focus in American society.  We still love love and romance and weddings.  We still subconsciously gauge someone’s happiness by their relationship status.  Every time I go out to dinner with couples, I feel the weight of their sympathy at the end as I walk to my car alone.  And the reason I think I feel it now that I’m single is because I remember feeling it towards others when I was married. We are a society obsessed with belonging to someone and we assume that most widows are focused primarily on the will I or won’t I question as well.

 

 

I certainly don’t speak for all widows on this subject, but I can give a little bit of insider information from those I’m privileged to know.  While a few women in my circle have decided that remarriage is absolutely, positively not in the cards for them – now or ever – most have not made that decision.  However, I also cannot name a single woman who is dead set on remarriage either.  Because it’s so much more complex than that.  The idea of marriage is different at this age and stage of life than it was the first time around.  Couple of reasons for that:

 

 

 

  1. We’ve already done it and we know it’s pretty hard.  Even those of us who were married to amazing men have very realistic views on the complexities of joining two lives together in holy matrimony.
  2. We have kids and families in the mix now. Part of what held Steve and I together during the seasons when marriage wasn’t fun was our shared love for the children we created together.  It’s hard to imagine sharing a marriage with someone who doesn’t also share your love and commitment to your children. I know it isn’t impossible, it’s just hard to imagine from this vantage point. It’s also hard to envision the seamless mingling of two family entities.
  3. For widows my age and older, we just don’t need marriage for the same reasons we used to.   There are definitely still reasons to want it, they’re just not the same as they were when we were twenty.  When I married Steve, I was focused on the family we would create, the home we would build, the ministry we would share, the money we would save.  Now, I have all those things, which means I’m making decisions through a different grid.
  4. We are afraid.  We have endured the death of a beloved.  In some cases, we cared for them through the long, treacherous process.  The idea of loving to that degree again is all tangled up with the very real risk of losing that love again.  And it’s almost impossible to consider surviving it again – at least it is for me.

 

 

So you can see why it’s a hard question to answer with a Yes or a No.  And, I tell you what, I am asked this question a lot (or I wouldn’t waste blog space on it.)   At first I was shocked that people asked – not offended, just shocked. Now I’m neither (though I am thankful no one has so far asked:  Grandma or Vixen?)  My answer – and I believe this would be reflective of many widows I’ve talked to – is this:  I haven’t made a decision about the idea of remarriage and I don’t think I need to.  The institution of marriage, in and of itself, will never be enough to overcome all the concerns I have enumerated above.  However, the possibility exists that somewhere in this great big world is an actual person who could convince me to take a risk on love.  Not yet. Maybe not ever.  But also: maybe.  Someday.

 

 

I do not kid you when I say I feel zero inclination to push my way forward on this or to spend any precious minutes worrying about it.  I feel 100% peace in living and building this amazing life God has given me, while trusting Him with every person, project and possibility that exists in my future.  I don’t want to disappear into grandma’ing, though I love it.  I’m also not going to fight my age (except I still color my hair and I won’t apologize for it!) or live on the lookout for someone who will please, please love and validate me.  I just want to live out every minute in an all-caps YES toward the plans God has for me and the days He’s already written for my life.  And most widows I know are in the very same place.  So maybe, in the final analysis, our categories are too weak to hold the weight of life’s complexities.  Maybe we should just let widows be women.  Regular, wonderful women who want to live and love well with the days they’ve been given.  Wouldn’t that be a good start?

 

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

March 29, 2016 - 10:18 am

Mitzy Zahm - My feelings exactly. Especially, over all else..#4. A reason that most don’t even entertain. We know that this ‘in sickness and in health’ is real, and real hard!

March 29, 2016 - 12:13 pm

Molly - Absolutely Bo! Live life, love God and those kids! Keep preaching n keep writing! You da best!

March 29, 2016 - 1:01 pm

Deb - The obtuse thing about a question like this is that it assumes there is a whole conga line of eligible men dancing circles around you! I used to get similar questions/comments as a late 20’s singleton. People would be like ‘Why aren’t you married?’, and I’m like ‘Cause the last guy that tried was a socially backwards chap that lived in a shipping container. That’s why.’

March 29, 2016 - 2:00 pm

Cathy Denney - I’m not a widower, but I am single now. Not exactly by choice, but because of a complex set of circumstances. I feel the deep loss of my loved one. I am moving on with my life and have been asked this same question many times too. This so speaks to my heart and puts into words my thoughts and feelings. Your gift of the written word continues to bless and inspire me! Thank you Bo!

March 29, 2016 - 2:28 pm

Kathryn Vai - Well Bo, once again you have nailed it. When, after looooong consideration and efforts to choose otherwise, finally divorced my ex-husband, I was shocked to discover that I also lost my entire social network. I had NO idea that people (mostly other women) would perceive me as a threat and that I would instantly become friendless. All but a very few people from my church (at that time) reached out to me, mostly to offer understanding, but after one phone call, I never heard from any of them ever again.

It’s been ten years. I am more convinced than ever that I did the right thing, and since that time I have made new friends composed primarily of other single women. Some are widows, some divorced, some never married. It’s a supportive and loving group that has been there for me over the past ten years in ways my church never was. Pretty pitiful commentary on the church, when I stop to think about it. I have a career and can support myself, volunteer, spend time with my now adult kids and my new friends, and try to do good where I am. But I am constantly aware that I am not welcome in the land of couples any more. I am mostly okay with it after having ten years to figure it out.

Since you are a leader in your church, I can imagine that your experience is different from mine, but I tell you what, I can still remember the shock of discovering myself really alone that first Thanksgiving. It really sucked.

March 29, 2016 - 6:31 pm

Tammy A - This is the most adorable picture. Just pure joy!

March 29, 2016 - 6:47 pm

Nancy Shaw - Lesson – 1 Don’t ever say ever. Every time say that it’s so have to eat my words.

2 You are to young into widowhood to be entertaining such thoughts

3. Time will tell you if you will marry or not. If one has had a marriage that was comparable and you were friends as well as spouses. The day will come. When one will start missing things they didn’t necessarily to much about
At first loss. For instance, just being able to sit with another man and have a
Woman to man adult conversation. Someone to have coffe with I. The mornings or someone to cuddle up next to at night. And then if one does get remarried they realize how much they have missed the physical.

March 29, 2016 - 7:26 pm

bo - Nancy – I didn’t say never and I don’t think there are any rules about how soon is too soon to think about the future. My point was that I am just trying to follow the plans God has for me without pre-determining which direction those plans will go….so I think maybe we’re saying the same thing and maybe you misread my post or I am misreading your comment. Bless you, friend.

March 30, 2016 - 12:39 am

Amy Crombie - Bo, You are one of the most incredible women I have encountered. You have such a beautiful and authentic view of life and you inspire us all to open our hearts and minds to all the possibilities in this big ol’ world. I love that you share with us all, and I pray that this new Chapter of your life is bursting at the seams with joy, laughter, and new memories. Regardless of if you remarry or not someday…you are a beautiful radiant light in our lives and deserve every blessing under the sun. I hope you feel all of our love.

March 30, 2016 - 10:28 am

Megan Robertson - My dear Bo, I just love reading your blogs. I usually never post a word, but today I felt compelled to say that reading your words never fails to uplift and inspire me. Love and light to you!

March 30, 2016 - 12:51 pm

Susan - Bravo, this is perfect! I would love to be married again, but I have a pretty darn good life now, and I don’t want to mess it up. I am focusing my energy on raising my daughter. If God wants to bring someone into my life He will, at just the right time.

April 4, 2016 - 12:06 pm

Lottie Ennis - Bo, my husband passed away from ALS a month ago on March 3. My friend gave me your book (Beautiful Battlefields) to read when we were in the midst of our journey. Then, she forwarded me a couple of your blog entries this week. I have signed up to receive them because they have truly helped me as I’m navigating this new journey. Thank you for sharing!

The Care and Handling of Newly Single Friends

 

 

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The question I am asked most often right now is: What is the best way to relate to and care for widows and widowers?  It’s usually closely followed by, “I’m afraid I’m going to do something wrong, so I don’t do anything.”  First,  it’s such a good question.  Secondly, I struggle to answer it.  I know the ways my community has blessed me, but my situation is only mine. I don’t have a complete worldview on this issue.  So I turned to my friends who have been widowed in the past year or so and they sent me amazing input.  Then I had a conversation with someone who was recently divorced and was struck by how different our experiences were.  That’s when I decided to talk to a few people who haven’t experienced the death of a spouse, but they have experienced the death of a marriage.  Now, I’m not sure which one is harder – they’re both so difficult and so different, but both leave us all in the same place: the land of the newly single.  We’re different than the always-single.  Used to being part of a couple and usually part of a community of couples, this strange land is fraught with frustration and heartache and, in some cases, shame.

 

These ideas are not my own, though I do share most of them.  They are the collective thoughts from my conversations with some of the bravest people I know.  They are by no means exhaustive nor universal, but I hope they inspire you to new levels of love and compassion toward the newly single in your life.  Here are our thoughts:

 

 

It’s never bad to invite us to…well, pretty much anything.

Holidays can be hard and lonely, but so can regular old Tuesdays. Events with mostly couples can be hard, but invite us anyway – we’ll decide if we can handle it or not.  And even though we’ve said no once or twice or five times, please keep asking us. Our ability to move out into society changes from day to day, so please don’t be offended if we have to decline a kind invitation – it still felt so nice to be asked into your world.

 

 

 

Be willing to listen long.

We have, in most cases, lost our primary processing person. We don’t necessarily need answers as much as we need to be able to talk our way to a conclusion or solution which is why we may cover the same ground over and over again.  It’s tempting to want to give a lot of advice and it’s okay to offer some – but those who listen well are an amazing gift to us.

 

 

We appreciate your love for our kids – especially when you run it through us first.

Again, this one can be difficult to navigate because whatever it is that made us single has undoubtedly caused heartache for them as well. We have our eyes out for signs of fallout in their hearts and are cautious to expose them to anything else that might be hurtful.  Offers to take them to coffee, or school clothes shopping or on your family vacation are so kind, but there may be reasons it won’t work, so just ask us first.

 

Here’s a tricky one: be careful in your attempts to set us up.  

So, so careful.  Some of my  newly single friends are eager to welcome the involvement of their married friends in their dating lives, others are not. And across the board, my friends expressed a fair amount of shock and awe at how they’ve been set up and with whom.  Let’s tackle those separately, shall we?  Now understand, please, that I’M not in the dating market, but I’m going to speak collectively for the people who trusted me with their insight and so it will sound weird, but that’s just how this is going down.

 

  1. HOW to set up your newly single friend.  Here are the don’ts:  No blindsiding.  No secret invites of other single friends, hoping they’ll meet, mingle and marry (totally going to trademark Meet, Mingle & Marry for a new dating web site. Because I have time for that.)  Here are the do’s:  Do ask permission. Do be honest about your motives (wanting to introduce two people who may become friends or more is not bad, it just becomes bad if people feel tricked)  Do give your friend a way out if they are not comfortable.
  2. WITH WHOM:  This one is a little tricky to talk about, but talk about it we must.  We understand that the dating pool gets smaller as we get older.  However, that does not mean our standards shrink along with it.   We want someone who shares our beliefs and values.  We want someone who has character and integrity.  We want someone who – and I can’t stress how many times I’ve heard this, so it must really be a thing – is not crazy. I get that crazy can be subjective and a little crazy can be cute to some – but use good judgement here.  And here are some random don’ts:
  • Don’t put your friend in a situation that you yourself would not want to be in.  Ask yourself:  If roles were reversed, would I think this person was a legitimate option for my dating life?  Then, add in all the pain and sorrow that comes from divorce or widowhood and multiply by 17 and you have the level of caution and disorientation your friend is feeling as he or she faces the whacky world of dating.
  • Do not be offended if your friend asks to see a picture or a Facebook page before committing to a meeting. You would want one, too.
  • Do not be offended if, after viewing said Facebook profile, your friend takes a pass.
  • Do not be offended if, after one date, your friend doesn’t want another.  Love and attraction are entirely subjective and what makes sense to you may not make any sense at all to them, and that’s okay. Almost every one of my friends made a comment along the lines of, “I’d rather have no one than settle for something that doesn’t feel right.”  In my conversations, people who had lost their spouse to divorce were much more adamant on this point than those who were widowed.  Though walking a spouse all the way to the end of his life is difficult, it also re-emphasizes the beauty and strength of committed love.  Those who have watched the wedding vows die, on the other hand, do not always enjoy that same faith in relationships.
  • Do not offer the possibility of finding a mate as a source of comfort.  “Don’t worry, you’re  young  – you’ll love again” just really isn’t comforting.  It implies that what we lost is replaceable and often times, the thing we lost was our faith in the safety and sanctity of marriage itself.  So “again” is loaded with all sorts of emotions.

 

 

 

Speaking of people who have been through a divorce or difficult break up:  This one is very tender.  Every divorced friend I spoke with had a word in their lexicon that the widowed group did not, and the word is a powerful one: shame.  They are carrying the weight of failure, whether perceived or actual.  They are often locked in bitter battles for children or property or reputation.  They haven’t just lost the friendship of a spouse, each one expressed the depth of pain in losing half their friends or their church or their in-laws. Sometimes they feel that married people eye them suspiciously when they get near their spouses. It is sorrow on top of sorrow.

 

 

Widows and widowers usually receive an outpouring of love and sympathy (at least initially), but divorced people are often tragically neglected as communities choose sides and scatter.  The bottom line here, however, is love.  Be willing to love your divorced friends without condition and without needing explanations or apologies. And in those situations where the social dynamic must change in your relationship  (you probably won’t keep having your ex brother-in-law over for Christmas dinner), refuse to get caught up in the mudslide of gossip and slander that so easily rolls through communities (and social media!) in the aftermath of a marriage breakdown. Refuse to throw mud. And love instead.  For the sake of broken hearts and hurting children and in honor of the grace of Jesus, choose generous, covering love.

 

 

Finally, stay in the game.

Many I talked with mentioned feeling that their friends gradually began to slide out of the picture.  Sometimes it’s friend fatigue, sometimes it’s just forgetfulness.  Once the initial shock is over, the surrounding community returns to their regular lives while the newly single person stands in the wreckage, wondering if rebuilding is even possible.  If you’ve lost touch with someone you love who is rebuilding, it’s never too late to reengage. So many people have told me how sad they are for neglecting to stick close to their hurting friend and that they’re now too embarrassed to reach out.  Don’t be that friend.  Reach out.  No need to over-explain or over-apologize, just say, “Hey I love you and I miss you and I want to get together whenever it works for you.”  And then make it work.  Because we’re all in this together, guys.  And from my side of the newly-single fence:  I need you.  And I’m so glad you’re in my life.

 

And hey – single or formerly-single friends – comments are open: what did we miss?

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

March 24, 2016 - 2:22 pm

Kayrin - Thank you Bo! I am married to a man who was widowed very suddenly and unexpectedly at age 35. There was no handbook for what he was going through, or what I went through when we began dating. I LOVE hearing your perspective on this. Thank you.

March 24, 2016 - 2:43 pm

Debbie Wilson - I lost my husband last July too. You have hit the nail on the head for most of my questions. However, how do you transition your adult kids in seeing you as not only ‘mom’ minus dad now, but a woman that sees many changes ahead? Like, moving out of a family home, the potential of a new partner or even just traveling. Mine seem to picture me at home in this lost state, forever.

March 24, 2016 - 3:11 pm

Joy - Dearest Bo: I cannot be certain, never having experienced the heartbreak of losing a partner to death, but having had the experience of a delightful, long-term (23 years) marriage ending in divorce and the horror of all the losses involved, I’d have to say that this kind of divorce is worse than death. How often in the days and months following divorce did I long for the peace and comfort of death? Daily. What did I lose, exactly? My confidant, best friend, lover, pastor, peanut gallery, admirer, fellow life-warrior-at-arms, accountant, navigator, sounding board and co-parent. I lost the one person who faithfully said “Is it just me, or is this THE best meal you’ve ever tasted???! !!” I lost upwards of 50 people, many of whom exchanged “I love you”s with me for more than two decades…literally overnight. Gone. Without a trace, without a word and I still have NO idea what they were told to cause them to vanish when he decided to depart. But vanish they did. To the accompaniment of my broken heart. I also lost nearly every legalistic friend of our then-circle…which was nearly everyone. I also lost the confidence that I was called to be an excellent wife & mother because what kind of a woman would lose her husband to such a degree that he who loved her so deeply now openly hates her??! I lost the benefit of the doubt that maybe there were two sides to this story — because our circles? OUR circles “knew” that a truly excellent Help Meet could not possibly let her husband stray. I lost my son. He was 18 and felt like leaving might be the grownup thing to do, you know, since his dad was doing it. I lost all financial security. All of it. When I asked one of my formerly “dear” friends why she never checked to see if my girls & I were even hungry during the months after he left, she said “Well, you didn’t seem to believe the way we do.” I asked her if she knew he had left & she said “I heard it but didn’t want to believe it.” Why were we talking now? She had called to make sure I wasn’t moving away & taking any of her homeschool books I’d borrowed with me. I cannot even express the blow to my heart. Multiple blows. There is more, but this is hard. I will say more later, perhaps, but for now it’s been six years & I am just now gaining my balance and learning how to live single and strong. I say I believe divorce (from a happy marriage) is worse than death because I lost the heart & soul of my life — the one who said I was his rib, his bestie, his destiny…and overnight my “I love you to the moon & im not worthy of you!” became “I hate you and you are a witch!” Over. Night. It took a hella long time before I stopped crying in envy when I’d hear of someone dying. I never considered suicide nor took to my bed. I plugged along doggedly surviving in the hope of thriving again someday. But the peace of death in exchange for my lover’s hate-filled, lava-laden words was a heady thought indeed. And the loneliness and rejection from people’s fear of my Divorce Disease? Indescribable. Truly. The memories of a dearly departed’s adoration of his surviving partner & family is a beautifully healing balm. But this? This adds fiery darts of insult upon injury that just never lets up. And it stinks, honey. It really stinks. From all directions. But my love for you grows daily, Bo. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your journey and inviting us to share ours. It’s cathartic. <3

March 24, 2016 - 4:07 pm

kat - I just want to say, even after 25+ years from a divorce, i am still experiencing some of these feelings. Failure, lonesomeness rejection. And the why am i alone? Along with so many other feelings. Watching your world you knew slip away, and facing life alone, and watching friends slip away seems to be a thing that happens even after all these years.
But i do know i am over the top thankful for the unconditional love of our Lord. He is my everything. Thank you for the post Bo. God bless.

March 24, 2016 - 5:27 pm

Teresa B. - Joy- I am so sorry for what you have gone through. Please know that I will be praying for your continued sense of being and Independence. Continue to rest upon the Lord and he will be beside you at all times. Thank you for this Bo. I wish I could send this to all my dad’s friends. He is in the “newly divorced” area and has many friends who try to set him up. He gets invited to ball games, concerts, and every time there is an extra female along for the ride. He said to me “I just want to enjoy being single!” Hes started to decline invitations because of the prospect of having a “blind date” and then he doesn’t want to be rude to turn them down for a one on one date. So the dating comments are so very very true and something everyone should consider, it may even be the #1 point!

March 24, 2016 - 8:56 pm

Sally - Oh what good reminders these are to reach out and reach out again to the widows who continue to hurt.

May I add another category? Those of us who are in limbo; in my case a spouse who is suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. As Pauline Boss says in her book Ambigious Loss he has said goodbye without leaving. He is still very much in my life, but he has said goodbye. I have a husband, but I am not part of a couple. I am still committed to caring for a husband who does not even know my name. Long time friends have drifted away. Neighbors ask how he’s doing but don’t offer to help me shovel snow. My church family is busy visiting people who are dying of cancer or having surgery or are unemployed. They grew tired of this long ten year illness

I’m partly at fault. I don’t return phone calls because I don’t always want to discuss the latest decline, I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to hear how you understand because your grandmother or your mother had Alzheimer’s. You could visit your mother at the memory care facility and go home to your normal life with your husband. I go home with his dirty laundry to an empty house.

March 25, 2016 - 7:20 pm

Marlys Johnson - Great info for friends and family of the newly single!

If I could add one thought to your list – speaking as a 16-month widow – it would be this: Don’t be afraid to tell stories and share memories about my husband in front of me because I love to hear them. My brother-in-law mentioned he was thinking of posting something about Gary to Facebook, but wasn’t sure how I would take it. — Yes, please do! — And so he posted a photo of Gary and said that March Madness wasn’t the same without him, and that he missed him (Hubby, computer geek, maintained an annual computerized March Madness Johnson family pool, which kept us connected to each other throughout the basketball series, including some good-natured trash talking).

His post was honoring of his brother. And I felt honored, as well.

March 27, 2016 - 2:45 pm

Kimberlie Ott - Dear Bo, Your post today was beautiful. I have been following your blog for the past few years, and Steve’s too, up until his final post. This resonated with me as it was 16 years ago you walked into the Bend Blockbuster and said you had heard through the grapevine(our mutual college friends) of my divorce and how sorry you were. I remember that meeting as clearly as yesterday as I was overjoyed to see you , and then mortified with the wave of shame and loss that came with the knowledge that the world knew my problems. I have been on a long journey of healing since………….walked through many years of pain and frustration at not “succeeding” where others did……but since, I have seen God’s grace enter my life and fill my children’s hearts with peace…….I remarried a widower whom I had known for many years and together we loved a blended family of 8 children whose hearts were torn with loss from cancer and divorce. God came in and remade a broken heart and I am still learning to trust, in my maker and in my husband. My children’s dad died almost four years ago………and we remained friends (as best we could) for the sake of our children. Losses………..deep and abiding, of church family, friends and others who pick sides caused such pain, but God brought new connections and new paths…….learning to walk and traverse those paths is a moment by moment testing of my faith. I pray for you continually……..the beauty of this blog is so evident……you are spot on in your musings and have gleaned much from dear friends. Keep your head held high………His Grace does carry you through the storm, when the quiet hours are sometimes the hardest. Much love for your future.

In Defense of Social Media

 

 

Okay, yes.  I know social media is an obsession and I know too many of us are fastened to our phones.  I also get that we are presenting an overly stylized version of our lives.  I don’t have to prove to anyone that our technology often outpaces our good sense. How many pictures do we need to see of your kid eating avocado?  But, still…I remain unapologetically happy that millions of people are recording evidence of their existence, and their children and even their coffee.

 

 

I mean, you want to love your beautiful latte and remember how it looked next to your leather journal?  Fantastic. I’m with you.  Actually, I am you!  I remember a day last year, right after Steve went on hospice when I,  feeling broken and beaten, stumbled into my favorite little cafe and ordered a cappuccino.  I actually only ever drink plain, black coffee, but I ordered a cappuccino because I knew my friend, Mekenzie, would make it look lovely and on that one day, it was the only lovely I had.  It’s what I could hold and look at and hope into.  Here’s what I posted on my instagram account that day:

 

 

 

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I captioned it, “Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy this.”  It took its place next to the millions of other pictures of coffee cups that day, but this one is mine.  It represents a breakthrough of hope on a truly hopeless day. It means nothing to anyone else, but it means about a thousand things to me and – honestly – I owe it to a social media-obsessed generation.  They’ve taught me to look at small things with big love. They’ve taught me to preserve moments of life in the face of death.  They’ve taught me to scan for beauty and capture it.  And, yep, they’ve taught me that sometimes it’s okay to wrap sharp edges in gauzy, grace-y filters.

 

 

A couple of weeks ago I went through my instagram account, poring over pictures of Steve and grandboys and trail runs and sandwiches that made my heart sing.  Some were well-liked by those who follow me, others were barely noticed, but you wannna know what?  I don’t regret a single one.  Each photo sang a special song to me of a really brutal and beautiful season.  In fact, my only regret was that I hadn’t taken more – and the reason I didn’t was because I worried that I would annoy people.  I feared showing a piece of my life that seemed unworthy of the bandwidth, but now I understand there is no such thing.  Not for me and not for you.  Our lives are worthy and wonderful. And they may, in fact, annoy other people, but I am here to tell you: I will be a witness to your existence.  I will cheer the big moments in your life like weddings and vacations and I will love the small moments like that baby and that avocado.  I will love that picture of your open Bible, even if you didn’t have time to read it.

 

 

And I can’t linger long over your photos, but I will watch and wave as they go by and wish you a meaningful journey –   on your perfectly filtered family days and on the deeply dark and un-photographed ones.  Because, friend, you matter. You matter much.

 

 

As for me, I am taking a photo every day which I am tagging #ProjectYestoLife.  I have no plan each day for what I will snap, all I know is that it will be something I said (or am saying) yes to.  I will record this year – still brutal, still beautiful, still standing, and I hope you’ll wave as my moments go by, but I won’t be sad if you don’t.  Because this is my Yes and only I can say it and live it.  In the end, I just want to remember that I did.

 

Here’s my question today: how are you recording your life? Words? Photos? Photo albums? Choreographed dance?  I’d love to know!

 

With so much hope and so much Yes,

 

Bo

March 18, 2016 - 8:57 am

Patty - Thank you for this! My kids have been encouraging me to get instagram and I’ve been resisting because I don’t want to be annoying but actually I know I would have fun recording life this way. So that will be my next “yes” as I love recording life through photos. Some days my yes is just getting out of bed (thanks to kids needing to get to school!). Next month is the big one year mark of my hubby’s first day in heaven and most days I still feel stuck floundering in “what now”, getting little accomplished outside of the mundane tasks of every day living. Your words help me gain better perspective of my own feelings and pushing through them in this crazy journey!

March 18, 2016 - 9:04 am

bo - Oh, Patty – PLEASE link me to your instagram account. I want to witness this year of your life!

March 18, 2016 - 9:07 am

ci - I cannot say ‘yes and amen!’ enough to this! Thanks for putting into beautiful words the beauty to be found in the every day-ness of our life. More often than not, we have to search for the beauty and hope, and memories recorded remind us of all that He has given.

March 18, 2016 - 12:08 pm

Angela - Bo-thank you for your honesty, hope, transparency, and good ole fun. After loosing my precious Michael Spencer at the age of 27 (2 years ago tomorrow), my life has taken twists and turns that were unexpected. I too have joined IG; I’m currently working on living in the here and now, enjoying every moment I can, and reaching out to others in hopes of bringing much needed and unspoken healing❤️❤️❤️❤️ Great blog today.
Ps my youngest son loves your blog and has found hope and healing as well:)

March 18, 2016 - 1:03 pm

Patty - Ok…instagram done…it is clearly going to involve a learning curve and I can’t figure out how to link to you! My daughter is trying to help me….I’m feeling my age! But my user name is “theotherpattysmith” so maybe you can link me that way. (you don’t have to post this, I just wanted to give you my username since I’m so techno challenged in linking you!)

March 18, 2016 - 3:54 pm

Darleen - Oh my gosh this made me cry too!!!! You are linked to my soul through social-media and I am so excited to get to be encouraged by your hope and amazing outlook on life each day now! Thank you so much for what you have given permission to in a world of trying to put the phone down! I am going to start taking pictures now and letting social media be an avenue to opening a documentary of my life as mundane as it seems…Much love to you sister Bo!

March 18, 2016 - 9:14 pm

Jody Collins - Bo, I document my life–and my children’s and grandchildren’s–on Facebook and Instagram, both of which I am eternally grateful for. (yes I ended that with a preposition).
Your take on this subject is very refreshing–I like the idea of #ProjectYesToLife–I’ll be looking and waving.

March 19, 2016 - 2:09 pm

Marlys Johnson - Beautifully said … as always!

March 20, 2016 - 10:46 am

Kelly Rompel - This is beautiful! I’ve struggled with this very same thing of considering to share but wondering what others would be annoyed by. No more. Life is worth living and sharing, not for who receives but for the very fact that I can give. We all can give and share. Thank you Bo for living your life.

On Being Numb and Waking Up Wisely

 

 Orange rosesI love passion like Oprah loves bread (and I also love bread.)

 

The feeling of passion that inspires deep love, desire, anger, hatred, outrage, exasperation, reminds us we’re alive and kicking. This is good. For those of us who have experienced the lethargy of grief, these sparky emotions create a sense of something that may not be called “pleasant”, but could be called Phew.

 

When sorrow kicks in the door and we employ all our numbing agents to survive it, it’s often a huge relief just to feel anything other than sadness. Even being mad at the political system has been a welcome change of emotion for me from sadness. It’s a spark, and I don’t think feeling the spark is bad. But it can become bad if I respond to it without discipline because, for me, passion fuels words. And words start fires. (For other people, passion can fuel relationships or addictions or extreme decisions or fantastic decisions – it all depends on how we channel it.)

 

 

As I move further into this new life without Steve, I feel myself slowly waking up – a little like the way the anesthesia wears off after a root canal. I always want to eat as soon as I start to feel again, but I forget that I can’t feel enough yet to not bite my own cheek. And I’ve found that it’s possible to do a fair amount of self-injury, coming out of the sorrow stupor if I haven’t built in some boundaries for channeling passion in healthy ways. For me, the boundaries are:

 

 

  1. Truth-telling friends who are given plenty of opportunity to speak into my life.
  2. A determination to get myself out of my comfort zone (aka: my quiet house) because I’ve learned that things grow very, very big inside my own head and when I take those thoughts out into the real world, they quickly shrink down to their real size.
  3. A first-thing-every-morning meeting with myself to answer one main question that will order my day and my decisions: what does love require of me? Because love gives purpose to passion.

And even with these guard rails, I feel like I still blow it at least as often as I get it right. But passion is real and powerful, and feeling it is a gift. My big prayer at this stage of the game is to channel it well and wisely and my second big prayer is that our good and gracious God will keep the fallout contained when I don’t. He’s good that way, I think, even when I’m not.

 

 

With hope,

 

Bo

 

 

 

March 16, 2016 - 3:28 pm

Marlys Johnson - Well said, Bo. Stepping outside comfort zones and first-thing-in-the-morning meetings with myself and with God have certainly helped me with this new widow mantle that is mine.

The Power of Habit

 

 

 

 

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” -Will Durant

 

 

I’ve been reading a lot about habit-building and I’ve discovered a problem with me:  I’m great at identifying big things that need to change. I mean, great at it! I’m a world-class goal-setter.  But I lack the attention span to institute wholesale changes in my life.  I really need bite-sized goals that can be done repeatedly over the long haul. These sorts of stepping stones to change are more achievable and less soul-crushing should I – gasp! – fail for a day or a week or entirely.  So, as I’ve identified the bigger things I want to accomplish or change, I’ve tried to break them down into micro habits that feel doable and will still feed the larger goal.  I’ve been amazed at the effectiveness of this system so far.  Here’s an example of one (that I recently mentioned on Facebook that generated a lot of emails and questions and led to this post):

 

 

Big Goal:  Eliminate Clutter (it’s a really big goal for me! I’m super cluttery.)

 

Micro habit: I will wear the very first outfit I put on in the morning for 21 days.

 

The thing is, I really love clothes and I have too many options. It is not an exaggeration to say I sometimes change five to ten (!) times (I know), which means my bed was always piled high with the mess of rejects and who has time to hang all those up when you’re trying to get out the door?  This one bad habit was creating six days of clutter in about fifteen minutes, which I was coming home to at the end of a long day.  It also created stress.  The more I changed, the more I felt my blood pressure rising from frustration and insecurity with my decision-making abilities.  Finally, this one little habit was breeding discontent. I had trained myself to believe my first choice couldn’t be the best choice, which created a nagging dissatisfaction with a perfectly good wardrobe and worse, with myself in general.

 

So, I did it.  I made the micro habit an essential part of my day and, as I mentioned, it was hard.  It was especially difficult on days when I was speaking and felt the pressure of the big screen weighing heavily on my outfit choice.  But I stuck with it and you know what I discovered?  Once I left the house, I never really gave my outfit another thought and – here’s the bigger piece – neither did anyone else!  No one pointed or laughed or told me I should have taken another crack at it. Turns out, at the root of my clothes-changing-addiction is an unhealthy self-focus. (You probably figured that out like three paragraphs ago, but I’m a slow processor.)  I wouldn’t have called it pride before, I would have called it insecurity – but they’re really just two sides of the same coin. Here are the wins from this micro habit:

 

  • I have a  new awareness of the role clothing plays in my identity. I needed a wake-up call there and didn’t realize it.
  • I make more intentional decisions about what I will put on in the first place, which is leading to greater levels of intentionality in other areas as well.
  • I have more peace and less frantic in the mornings, which means this is good for the boy who shares my home as well.
  • Remember when I said “I love clothes and have too many options”?  Yeah, that became the subject of my next micro habit which I may write about soon.
  • There has been SO much improvement in the clutter situation  – and I’ll remind you this was the only reason I started this experiment in the first place.  Turns out, I got so much more beauty than I bargained for!

 

Have I stuck with the habit?  Yep, pretty much.  I still have relapses, but I always notice them and recognize the negative things they produce and I think that’s a win as well.  Overall, I’m thrilled with the results of this one tiny, little, baby step.  So, enough about me – are there any new micro habits in the works in your life?  How’s it going?

 

With hope for powerful habits,

 

Bo

 

PS: Books I read and really enjoyed on this topic:

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor

Before Happiness, by Shawn Achor

 

 

 

March 12, 2016 - 7:15 am

Miranda - I love the idea of a micro goal to accomplish the big goal. I have been striving these last 2 years especially to become more organized and keep our home better. It took me a while to realize that it was not going to happen with 1 major decluttering session, but rather with my every day habits. I’ve never actually sat down and written anything out – mostly because iam great at lists and not so great at follow through 🙂 But I think I am going to try the micro goal idea.

March 12, 2016 - 3:38 pm

Jody Collins - Bo, I need to lose 15 pounds and exercise more (I know, bo-ring…)particularly since arthritis has decided to visit me recently, something I’ve never dealt with. I”m 63; I suppose it’s time.
A mini-solution: every time I find myself with 5 minutes to spare I do leg lifts on my stairs, calf stretches at the cabinet or arm windmill-y things for my shoulders.
Baby steps…
Now, if I can figure out a way to make the pounds melt…