I have found that many of the “gifts” of transition come through “the back door,” disguised as anything but a “gift.” One such instance that sticks in my mind is the first Christmas after my divorce many years ago. Within a period of three months, my marriage of 26 years unexpectedly ended, my youngest child left for college, there was a move from my beloved old restored house of 24 years, my psychotherapy practice was given up for a job with “benefits” and “security,” and I ended up in the hospital with a broken foot (biking accident) and a ruptured disc. All in a period of three months!
The first Christmas after all of this had just happened was going to be extremely painful for me. I loved Christmas! I decorated every inch of my home with fresh greens and homemade ornaments and cooked everything from scratch, including 10 different cookie recipes every year. A Houston TV station had even used my house in a commercial because they wanted to show an “authentic old-fashioned Christmas.” (I go into this to show how extreme I was!)
So on that fateful Christmas, Ms. Merry Christmas was out of a job! My kids were spending Christmas Day with their father and I had been invited to be with dear friends. However, I felt that being with a happy, traditional family on Christmas would be the most painful thing I could do, feeling the loss of my own family so deeply. I had decided to spend Christmas on a retreat by myself in a friend’s house in the Texas Hill Country.
Well, to make a long and frustrating story short, I couldn’t find the vacation house keys that morning–so no trip to the Hill Country! I took my newspaper and tried to find a restaurant open to eat Christmas dinner. IHOP was the only place I could find, so I went in. For Christmas dinner, I had a patty melt, french fries and a diet coke! And Ms. Merry Christmas sat there, reading her paper and looking around. IHOP was full of people eating Christmas dinner and seemingly happy to be there. Something within me shifted. No one knew me and there were no expectations. They did not know that I was a successful professional, had friends and family who loved me or that I could bake cookies from scratch. I was simply ME sitting in IHOP on Christmas stripped of all the roles from which I normally defined “Who I Am.” And in that moment I experienced the stillness and the joy of coming home to Spirit and accepting the Gift of Myself–no trappings, just the knowing that I was valuable simply because I was created worthy. Needless to say, my friends and family were in tears when they found out I had eaten Christmas dinner by myself in IHOP, but I was elated! A paradigm shift had occurred within me. I think this had a great deal to do with my being able to leave all my familiar roles several years later and move to the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.
There have been many challenges in my life these past years since my life turned upside. These painful and glorious years have taught me many things. I have learned that if I need to make a decision, I now ask, “Which one is comfortable?” and “Which one will stretch me?” Daring to choose the stretching has brought me new life.