This is the third post in a series reflecting on my forties. The first is here and the second here. This writing is prompted by my half-birthday last week and entering the final six months of my forties. That day I posted on Facebook "Today I am six months from turning fifty, and the most surprising realization, as I head into the final six months of my forties, is how young and sexy this age actually feels. Never would have convinced me of that in my thirties, but a joy to discover." So these posts should be taken with this context in mind. And definitely read the last and final post, just so you don't make the mistake of thinking I don't have emotional distance now from the events described in this one.
2019/45--Setting the Stage
A highlight of that year was Sebastian's fourth birthday party. He was in preschool, clearly not a toddler anymore, with a huge group of friends, and what a great time we all had.
The most notable event of the late winter was the massive blizzard and flooding that impacted the entire region. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, our organization was on the front lines in response. And I took some leadership in the response of the Nebraska Conference of the United Church of Christ.
In June I began my term as Chairperson/President of the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Conference of the UCC. I had been looking forward to this opportunity with the hope of moving forward with a number of initiatives, particularly to rally folks to more engagement. The storm and response had also created an opportunity to build upon. I'm quite proud of the work we did during my term--on climate change, anti-racism, and officially becoming open and affirming. However, my time as chair was not what I expected it to be, and was instead filled with much stress, as we handled the pandemic and a very difficult situation with staff.
In July our whole family attended the UCC General Synod in Milwaukee (even Mom and Nash!), followed by a camping trip in northeast Iowa (without Mom) in a beautiful location.
Late summer we experienced one of the best periods in our family life, and what to me felt like one of the best periods in our entire relationship. Michael and I took a weekend away to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary (that had fallen earlier in the summer), and, a few weeks later, we had a great date night seeing Hamilton. In those weeks we had some fun family excursions to the Iowa State Fair and to Pioneer Village. Plus, we really enjoyed the All Church Retreat together.
And, then, late September, it all fell apart. Michael left. And we were separated. This wasn't public, and we didn't even tell our families.
An aside on pastoral ministry. My husband walked out on a Saturday and the next morning I went ahead and led worship and preached. I warned my associate Katie that I might not be able to do it, so she was ready to take over. I did do it, and felt so strong for having done so. Only to have a church member come to me at the door and criticize the sermon for being too short.
That fall I was preaching a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer, in the very traditional way of taking one phrase at a time and exploring it. Which became for me a pretty powerful spiritual experience--to spend every week researching this prayer and preparing a sermon as I was wrestling with such profound personal emotional issues. At the time I thought, "this would make an interesting book," though I had no extra energy to create it as I was going through the experience.
We decided to work on the marriage and entered counseling again (the fourth time actually). Thanksgiving played a healing role in all of that, as we showed up in Oklahoma with our families and pretended everything was normal. But going through those motions and being in the place we had fallen in love, helped.
The actual separation ended, and by New Year's it left like we were on the road to recovery.
Pandemic, of course. Which swallowed everything about that year. For everyone.
I was doing the full-time childcare, while almost everything about how I do my work changed, and I needed to provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care for hundreds of other people. There were days I thought I was going insane (not a unique experience, of course).
One of the best parts of being home was all the gardening and landscaping we did that spring. And I've never enjoyed my front porch so much.
The highlight of 2020 was my team at work. We were each other's "bubble," even before anyone was using that term. Everyone rose to the occasion doing more and different and backing each other up. Even Sebastian's fifth birthday "party" was put on by my staff. We all became even closer than we were before.
Then, Omaha erupted in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and James Skurlock. And during one of the protests I was tear gassed and shot in the back of the neck by a pepper ball. I still feel that today in both my body and my soul.
Eventually, we began to regather for church. It was small, with lots of safety protocols, but oh so good.
Fortunately Mom moved to Omaha in September to help with remote schooling and allow me more time for work. I started writing again--a book on moral vision. Weekends Mom, Sebastian, and I would go do fun outdoor activities.
Michael sometimes worked eighty hour weeks that election season. Finally in mid-November we had time to talk and acknowledged that we needed to restart the process of repairing the relationship.
The day after Thanksgiving, Mom took Sebastian and Nash to give us some time together, and that's when he said he wanted a divorce.