Not very long ago, I was told that I would lose my life as I was used to living it. “Fasten your seatbelt,” someone said—someone who’d recently been through a divorce, lost her house, her children half the time, her dignity. Her face had the map of near-catastrophe to show for it. As I looked down the unconscionable barrel of divorce, another recent divorcee said, “Out of the two of you, I put my money on the pony that is you.” I looked at her dumbfounded. I had never been the bread winner. I was the hearth keeper and full-time mother. That was the agreement from the beginning and for twenty years, and I had put all of my security and dreams into the life we had created, the house, the land, the marriage, the co-parenting. So, I was fetal with fear, trying to figure out how to get out of bed and have the courage for tea, never mind total reinvention worthy of a good bet.
According to statistics, my parting husband, the mediator, and most everyone I knew, I was going to have to down-size. The house was in foreclosure, I didn’t have health insurance, savings, a job, or any income whatsoever. How was this possible for a smart, savvy, well-educated, well-raised, feminist mother? That’s what I asked myself on a rolling tape that tsunami-d over me until I was barely holding the weeds at the bottom of the ocean of fear, and worst of all, shame.
Another divorcee said, “I promise you…in one year’s time…your life will be better than you could ever imagine it. I promise.” I hate when people act like they have a crystal ball. But I held on to that promise, because I wasn’t sure what else to hold on to except the fact that my kids were thriving and my motherhood was too. That’s all that mattered to me. Getting out of bed, facing the day, getting through it with some level of grace, and being there to be the mother that I had always been, even when they weren’t with me, even when half of their lives was totally outside of my control.
In those impossible moments, their bedrooms empty, no homemade dinners to serve, no sleepy morning breakfast heart-to-hearts, no lunches to make and wrap with little loving notes…I surrendered myself to the foundation I had given them and the fact that they’d eaten enough organic food to counter-balance whatever they now were being served—they could survive on fruit cups and Jello and supermarket rotisserie chicken, and whatever else was now their reality…couldn’t they? In those grueling dark nights of the soul, I took heart. One year from now. Better. How was this possible?
What could make life better? I was told I had to start looking at condos in town. I would lose the land that held my little family and all our sledding parties, birthday parties, Christmas caroling and luminaria, a million walks with six dogs, raptors riding thermals over our heads as we picked splinters and told jokes, played cards by candlelight, coyotes echoing it all back to us in the night. A condo in Montana? I couldn’t think of anything more counter-intuitive for the life I had set up, curated, procured, and which gave me infusions every day, as a once wife, always mother, and woman who needs her muse to run naked in the woods.
I have always been stubborn and when I lack the practical common sense behind my convictions, there is a question that I ask and it has guided me well since I was a little girl: What can I create?
So sitting there in my house one day, crying in fear and desperation, I asked myself: What can I create? How can I keep my house, my land, my children’s lives from unravelling any more than they already have? This was never something I imagined for them, or for any of us. How can I make this work? What do I know how to do?
At that point I’d published a New York Times and international bestseller, and as always was working away on more book projects, but even so, the writing process takes time, and the publishing world is complex. The long and short of it was that I was in deep financial trouble with no immediate practical way out that I could see. I’ll spare you the gory details. And myself too. Here’s where the hope lives and why I’m sharing this with you: On that day, I put my fear and shame to the side and opened my mind to the world of possibility. If my friend said she’d put her money on the pony that she said was me, and my other friend promised that my life would be markedly better in a year…what could I see for myself? What did I know how to do that could be fairly and significantly monetized? But not find me selling out my dreams, my writing, my total dedication to my true purpose. My sole true purpose was mothering and writing, wasn’t it? What else was congruent with who I am?
Well…I knew how to write. I knew how to sit myself down and write no matter what was going on in my life, and always had. It had gotten me through hard times and it had resulted in published work that landed in people’s hearts. I could speak about perseverance and dealing with rejection and the practical application of philosophies I’d learned along the way in the realm of emotional freedom and empowerment. I could be transparent, vulnerable, heart-in-the-hand honest and loving. I was natural at leadership and well-seasoned in the dynamics of intimate groups and how to keep them safe and healthy. I could create and hold the space for people to find their way to these life-lines which had been my guide for years. And I could come up with very relatable and inspiring exercises to help people learn what I’d learned– to help people give themselves permission to find their unique voice and express it, using the power of the written word. And as if in Shakespearean choir…a few other friends with crystal balls had whispered Writing Retreat in my ear for months. I hadn’t really listened until that moment when I knew I could not live by fear any longer if I was ever going to get to the other side.
Without a whole lot more rumination, (I’ve found that fearlessness works best that way), I put it on Facebook: Anyone want to go on a writing retreat in Montana with me? In two hours, twenty-four people signed up, and Haven Writing Retreats was born. Five years and four hundred people later, if there was a race to be betted on, and a winner’s circle and wreath of roses around my neck…and a lucky person who gambled on the longshot, I can say with humble-pride that maybe some people deserve their crystal balls. I can say that I am grateful for their confidence when I didn’t have it for myself, never mind my future. And I can say that it is absolutely possible that you can take exactly who you are and turn it into a business, a career, and even financial stability.
Whether you’re a single mother going through a divorce, or recently fired from your job, or in re-invention without a view into your future at all…ask yourself this powerful question: What can I create? It may be right under your nose. And it may be some of the most important work of your life.
And even if you’re not, even if you have all the security in the world in the people, places, and abundance of your life…never take it for granted. Don’t live in fear of the rug being ripped out from underneath you. But do know what your passions are and live them with all your might. I’m glad then, that my passions were in a row when the rug got ripped out from under me, even if my ducks weren’t. Passions are mine-able. Anyone can be an alchemist, if they have something powerful to work with. And the most powerful matter I know…is the truth of who you are, the special way you have of showing up in the world, where you find the ease of true power and purpose, and give yourself permission to live it, use it, be it.
So as we enter 2017, to all of us who are toiling to see brightness in our future, or a future at all…take heart. If I could have seen that day in my world of hurt, what this Holiday season looked like, I wouldn’t have been able to believe my eyes. I would have seen a mother and her children in Paris, eating macarons in a beautiful boutique hotel, old and new friends feasting over long dinners of delectable food, laughter and love, toasting and fond reminiscing. Smiles that beamed as bright as the Eiffel Tower at midnight, and as deeply and wisely as the Mona Lisa’s, and as mystically as the Gregorian chants in a candle-lit Notre Dame. I would have seen a mother and her young adult children– a trio so powerfully woven as they walked the medieval streets of Bruges, Belgium holding hot chocolate and Gluhwein, basking in the Dutch countryside, caves and chateaux where earls and knights once lived, writing wishes for each other on slips of paper for 2017. And I would have seen them in a holy pause for a week in Amsterdam in a 17th century little house around the corner from the Westerkerk that kept Anne Frank’s hope alive, chiming every fifteen minutes as if to remind us that we are here, and we are together and we are not just thriving. We are happy.
P.S. And I kept our house…and am deeply into three books, hopefully coming to your bookshelf sooner than later…
A Slice of Haven Writing Retreats:
Now Booking Haven Writing Retreat 2017 (ranked in the top 3 writing retreats in the US!)
You do NOT have to be a writer to come…just a seeker…looking for your VOICE!
February 22-26 (one spot left)